196 Air France Passengers Escape Death

July 7, 2005

Posted to the web July 7, 2005
by Chuks Okocha And Ndubuisi Francis
Port Harcourt/Lagos

Plane kills 6 cows on Port Harcourt runway - Airport closed for 8 hours

A major incident, unprecedented in the nation's aviation industry occurred at about 4.30 am yesterday when an aircraft belonging to French carrier, Air France collided with six cows right at the Port Harcourt Airport runway, killing all of them.

Although the 196 passengers on board the aircraft escaped unhurt, the aircraft which was coming from the French capital, Paris was badly damaged.

Eye witness accounts said the aircraft veered off the runway as a result of the impact of the collision before the pilot was able to manouvre it back to the runway.

A terse statement signed by the airline's spokesperson, Mrs Moyo Areola reads: "While landing at 04.30am local time this morning in Port Harcourt, our aircraft A330 registered F-GZCF carrying 196 passengers collided with some cattle that were crossing the tarmac. No passenger or crew was injured.The aircraft taxied safely to the gate on time at 04.34am local time".

According to her, "the aircraft is presently on ground for safety reasons and will not be flown until all necessary safety precautions have been taken."

She said a maintenance team is locally checking the aircraft and in addition, "an Air France mechanical team are on their way from Paris to further certify the safety of the aircraft".

The airline's spokesperson said flight AF 875 billed to depart Port Harcourt for Paris last night had been cancelled.

Sources told THISDAY that air traffic controllers at the airport had given the Airbus A330 pilot clearance to land. But when the pilot commenced descent he observed the presence of a large herd of cattle moving eastwards at the tarmac.

THISDAY gathered that since the pilot had already commenced descent into the airport, it was practically impossible to avert the collision with the animals.

A source who called THISDAY's corporate headquarters in Lagos last night claiming that he was within the airport when the incident occurred said the scene of the collision was a gory sight.

He stated that the runway was soaked with the blood of the crushed cows, wondering why an international airport could be so easily penetrated by animals.

When THISDAY visited the airport yesterday, the damaged A330 aircraft was parked in one of the hangars of the airport with its nose badly damaged. The aircraft was reportedly initially billed to discharge its passengers in Port Harcourt before going to Lagos.

Following the incident, the departure and arrival gates of the airport were closed for over eight hours with no aircraft landing or taking off. This resulted in many passengers being stranded.

All the early morning domestic flights were turned back. It was at 11.40 p.m. that the airport became operational and aircraft were allowed to land or take off.

When contacted on phone at about 5 pm yesterday, the Airport Manager, Engr. Odo said he was with investigators, urging the reporters to call him tomorrow (today).

An official of Air France told THISDAY that in line with International Aviation Laws the airline will ask Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN)for a replacement of the damaged Airbus.

According to the official, "This is not the first time that both local and international aeroplanes are damaged in this airport, due to some negligence."

For instance, the Air France official said recently wild birds entered into the engines of an aircraft belonging to Spaceworld Airline and Chanchangi Airline.

Attributing the presence of herds of cattle on the runway as acts of negligence, the Air France official said "recently, a mad man found his way into the cockpit of Virgin Aircraft."

Accordingly, the Air France official said "we will certainly press for replacement of the aeroplane or repairs, because this is a clear case of negligence. How can herds of cattle be found within a runway of an international airport. We will still wait for the technical report on the accident."

Meanwhile, Aviation Minister, Mallam Isa Yuguda, has summoned the Managing Director of FAAN, Engr. Mohammed Umar Gambo, and the Director of Airport Operations, Mr. Desmond Ugwuegbulem, to Abuja.

THISDAY gathered that the two top FAAN officials were summoned following the incident which the government reportedly found embarrassing.

Yuguda had on June 11 suspended two pilots for three months following two separate incidents involving an EAS aircraft and that of Chanchangi.

Only last week, an IRS F100 aircraft also had an emergency landing at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos when it developed a hydraulic failure. Its undercarriage collapsed after it had successsully landed and was taxing out of the runway.