Nigerian Plane Crashes with 104 aboard, Including Muslim Leader

A Nigerian airliner carrying 104 people, including the man regarded as a spiritual leader of Nigeria's Sunni Muslims, crashed in a storm Sunday after taking off from the airport in Abuja. Most of those on board were feared dead, but at least six people survived.

The Sunni leader was among those killed in the third passenger jet crash in Nigeria in less than a year.

Debris from the shattered plane, body parts and personal belongings of passengers were strewn over a wooded area the size of a soccer field where the plane went down, about two miles from the end of the runway at the airport in the capital of the oil-rich West African nation.

Smoke rose from the plane's mangled and smoldering fuselage as rescue workers pulled out burned corpses. About 50 bodies were gathered in a corner of the site. The tail of the plane was hanging from a tree.

Sam Adurogboye, an Aviation Ministry spokesman, said the 23-year-old Boeing 737-2B7 crashed just one minute after takeoff. He said the cause of the crash was unknown.

Witnesses said it was raining around the time the aircraft took off. Rains subsided later, but skies remained overcast.

Adurogboye said the plane was carrying 104 passengers and crew members, and he knew of six survivors. "Obviously the rest are feared dead," he said.

Emergency workers recovered the last of the bodies about six hours after the crash.

The aircraft, owned by the private Nigerian airline Aviation Development Co., was headed to the northwest city of Sokoto, about 500 miles northwest of Abuja, state radio said.

In a radio announcement, the Sokoto state government said the sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Maccido, died in the crash. Maccido was the head of the National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, which determines when Muslim fasts should begin and end and decides policy issues for Nigeria's overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims.

Mustapha Shehu, spokesman for the Sokoto state government, said the sultan's son, Muhammed Maccido, a senator, also was on the flight, along with Abdulrahman Shehu Shagari, son of former Nigerian President Shehu Shagari, who was in office between 1979 and 1983.

About half of Nigeria's 130 million people are Muslims. The country is the most populous in Africa and the continent's leading oil exporter.

At the airport in Abuja, security officials tried to contain a crush of people seeking information about friends or family aboard the plane.

President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered an immediate investigation into the cause of the crash, his spokeswoman Remi Oyo said in a statement.

Oyo said Obasanjo was "deeply and profoundly shocked and saddened ... he offers condolences for all Nigerians, especially family, friends and associates of those who may have been on board."

The Nigerian airline ADC last suffered a crash in November 1996, when one of its jets plunged into a lagoon outside Nigeria's main city, Lagos, killing all 143 aboard.

Last year, two planes flying domestic routes crashed within seven weeks of each other, killing 224 people.

Nigeria's air industry is notoriously unsafe. 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. On Dec. 10, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 plane operated by Sosoliso Airlines crashed while approaching the oil city of Port Harcourt, killing 107 people, most of them schoolchildren going home for Christmas.

Earlier this month, authorities released a report blaming the Sosoliso crash on bad weather and pilot error. The investigation of the Bellview crash is still continuing.

After last year's air crashes, Obasanjo vowed to overhaul Nigeria's airline industry, blaming some of the industry's problems on corruption. Airlines were subjected to checks for air-worthiness and some planes were grounded.

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Associated Press writer Dulue Mbachu in Lagos and Oloche Samuel in Kano contributed to this report.


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