By Kingsley Anaroke
With heavy heart, we announce the death of all the passengers in the aircraft.
The Abuja bound airbus which took off from Lagos with a flying promise to cruise at the altitude of 30,000 feet above the sea level suddenly got missing airborne for over one hour in a sky congested with fog. And the aircraft surfaced and landed at the Abuja airport after over two hours on air in a usual 45 minutes journey but everybody onboard was dead.
Among those on the aircraft manifest were: Kingsley Anaroke, Chief Eugene Nweke, Mr. Akintunde Makinde, Peter Osamgbei , Francis Ugwoke. Could this have been the News from the management of Max Airline?
It was close. But then, this got me thinking of what would have been said and written about me as a dirge by different admirers and haters. Beyond what the perceptions of the people are, would it have been said that I fulfilled my purpose on earth? How many lives have I touched? What changes have I been able to bring about in troubled systems? What character template did I leave behind? I do not know how you wish to be remembered, but I wish to be assessed by these factors, being minded also that as a human I may have left slices of discomfort and emotional triggers in some people at some points in my professional duty line as well as jealous protection of my principles and philosophies.
Giving my account of the death in the wings as a survivor, I, Eugene Nweke and Francis Ugwoke were billed for Abuja to attend the event on: “Port Concessions in West and Central Africa: Impact on the Economies of Member States of the Sub-region” which took place between the 25th and 26th September, 2018. I got them to fly Max Air with me. It was our first time to fly the airline. I got introduced to it by a friend, who spoke so highly of them. I must confess, that was my first time to hear about them.
With such a glowing verbal advertisement, I felt the impulse to try them and also convinced my friends. We were booked on 4pm flight on September, 24th. The flight departed as scheduled.
There was no delayed departure or cancelled flight, a twin factor that endeared us to Max Air. Other airlines, especially Air Peace and Arik Air just like their troubled Aero Contractor colleague often violate the rights of Passengers in these areas with flagrant impunity. That there are no litigations arising from these consumer rights related issues does not mean that people don’t complain. They only react in docility. Our reaction therefore was to seek an alternative that could guarantee time comfort.
What should have been a safe flight turned out to be a nightmare shortly after the announcement from the cockpit that we were to land in Abuja in 10 minutes time. The expectation of landing gave way for tension and anxiety as the plane ascended the sky in an unusual cruising speed likened to the speed of a rocket, slicing through a mass and layers of thick fog which stretched over thousands of kilometers.
At this point, I doubted if the pilot did not fly above the ideal altitude of 40,000 feet above the sea level given the atmospheric exigency. The speed came with turbulence and intermittent sharp drop in altitude by the plane. At some point, we had the sensation of free speed in a descending order but a quick control of the moment again by the pilot.
The helplessness and the anxiety of the passengers on board were made worse by the silence of the cabin crew. The initial reaction was a palpable speaking silence. For me, at first, I wanted to swallow the situation in a stride of a man. I tried, yes, I did. So did many of us also. But gradually our fear of the known betrayed our deep concern.
Catching glimpses of the air space from the window of the aircraft, we knew the pilot was in trouble as our plane was wrapped in fog.
At this point, the flight had gone up in flame of prayers and supplication. There was calm confusion among all. It was a moment that united different faiths – Christians and Muslims to seek the face of God. As everybody prayed in different tongues and signs, the common refrain that rented the air was – “God have mercy”, “Oh God have mercy!” At other times, the frequency of the turbulence and menacing drop in altitude of the flight dictated the frequency and the sound of the passionate prayers of the passengers in the race for a second chance of living. It was an unfair negotiation moment with death for an opportunity to live again. That was not obviously a level –playing field for negotiation.
There was no political party affiliation or loyalty that moment. No ethnic divide, no language barrier. Many people praised God in songs of different languages. Muslims joined in singing.
Remarkably also, traditional title holders removed their caps in humility to pray and live again. Humility reigned, pride and class consciousness took a flight. First class passengers, at the front row, in anxiety joined the economy seats occupiers. What a “paradise” in a distressed moment! We were all technically dead. We got maximum “sentence” from the Max Air.
Although many people absolved the Airline and the pilot of this sentence; they said it was bad weather.
We are aware there was weather report from the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET). Do they need to enforce the usage by airlines to guarantee safety of flights?
However, the plane landed in Abuja 2 hours 15 minutes after take-off from Lagos. Thank God for answered prayers.
To think of the fact that the pilot of the aircraft is a woman left me wondering where she got the courage to wade through that tough terrain.
But some safety issues have been thrown up by this development. Is it that the management of the airline was not aware of the weather report for the day and time?
Do airlines in Nigeria lack good Dispatchers? If Max Air has one, did the Pilot ignore the professional guide of the company’s Dispatcher? Airline Dispatchers are vested with the responsibility of controlling, planning and executing the airline’s flights-keeping track of where they are, where they are going, their fuel /weight as well as assigning them specific routes.
They also calculate a flight’s ideal altitude and request it from Air Traffic Control (ATC), who accommodates the request when giving the pilot clearance to take off.
When a pilot violates the general rule on Cruising speed or flying altitude what happens ? It is said in aviation rule that, “The higher the better” for a jet engine performance as it guarantees fuel efficiency. This seems like a license to kill if not checked. A US report says that the highest certified altitude of an airliner was Concorde’s 60,000 feet. Do we have maximum altitudes for aircrafts in Nigeria?
Well, like the port concession discourse we went for, all the lucky survivors of the Maximum sentence are concessionaires of a new life. My advice is for all of us to live a bankable life, a life worth emulating and accountable. Congratulations!