A union representing Nigerian aircraft pilots warned Tuesday it was premature to blame pilot error for crash outside the capital that killed nearly 100 people on the weekend until a formal investigation is complete.
The Boeing 737 operated by Nigeria's Aviation Development Co. crashed during takeoff from Abuja airport on Sunday, killing 96 of 105 people on board, the country's third high-casualty air disaster in a year.
The cause of the crash has yet to be determined. A team from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is due in Nigeria on Tuesday night to help with the investigation, said Angus Ozoka, who heads Nigeria's Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau.
The team will be joined by investigators from aircraft manufacturer Boeing and engine maker Pratt and Whitney, Ozoka said.
On Monday, Aviation Minister Babalola Borishade said the crash might have been avoided if the pilot, who was among those killed, had taken air traffic control advice to wait for a thunderstorm near the airport to clear before taking off.
The National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers said in a statement Tuesday that the minister's comments were premature.
'We request that the minister refrains from making further comments of blame to allow for an unbiased investigation into the crash,' union leader Sani Mustapha said.
The ADC plane crashed into savanna within the airport grounds just about a minute after takeoff. The flight manifest released by the airline confirmed 96 deaths and nine survivors out of the 105 passengers and crew on board. Among the dead was top Muslim leader Muhammadu Maccido.
The plane had run into bad weather that included rain, gusty winds, thunder and lightening, Borishade said. Two other airlines with planes taxiing at about the same time -- Virgin Nigeria and Aero Contractors -- waited and were able to take off safely later, he said.
The minister said the authorities will review the discretionary powers given to pilots to override advice from the control tower, which he blamed for many aviation accidents in the country.
With the latest crash, fatalities from air disasters in Nigeria have reached 320 in one year.
On Oct. 22, 2005, a Boeing 737-200 plane belonging to Bellview airlines crashed soon after takeoff from the country's main city of Lagos, killing all 117 people aboard. Seven weeks later on Dec. 10, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 plane belonging to Sosoliso Airlines crashed while approaching the oil city of Port Harcourt, killing 107 people, most of them school children going home for Christmas.
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The incident is the third passenger jet crash in Nigeria in less than a year.
Nigerian president promises an exhaustive probe into the cause of the crash that killed 117 people.