Investigators focus on weather conditions in effort to find out why Nigerian 737-200Adv ‘nosedived’ into ground

Investigators are trying to establish if bad weather played a part in last week’s Bellview Airlines Boeing 737-200 crash in Nigeria in which all 117 people on board were killed.

The 24-year-old 737-200Adv (5N-BFN) crashed shortly after take-off from Lagos on 22 October, when operating a scheduled service (flight B30210) to Nigerian capital Abuja with six crew and 111 passengers on board.

The 737 left Lagos for the 1h flight at 20:35 local time and there was thunderstorm activity in the vicinity of the city at the time. The exact circumstances surrounding the crash are unclear, although local press reports quote officials as saying that communication was lost with the aircraft around 3min after take-off (possibly following a distress call) and that it crashed 7min later. The government says that the crew had asked for air traffic control assistance in avoiding storm activity before communication was lost.

The director general of Nigeria’s civil aviation authority, Fidelis Onyeyiri, reportedly said that initial investigations indicate that the aircraft may have “stalled” after passing FL130 (13,000ft/3,970m) and “nose-dived into the ground”. He also stated that the loss of communications could have been a result of the lightning causing the aircraft’s electrical system to fail.

The aircraft came down around 30km (19 miles) north of Lagos, with witnesses reporting that it was on fire before it struck the ground. The impact created a large crater around 12m deep, with little remaining of the aircraft.

Rescue teams have been severely criticised for taking 9h to locate the wreckage, with the delay being blamed on the confusion over the location of crash site. It is reported that the 737 was equipped with an early 121.5MHz-type locator beacon which, unlike the latest 406MHz devices, is not compatible with the Cospas-Sarsat international search-and-rescue satellite system. This could have hampered the search effort.

Nigeria has established a panel to investigate the accident, while the country’s president Olusegun Obasanjo is reported to have asked Nigeria’s aviation minister to “plug loopholes” in the nation’s aviation safety system. The crash investigation is being assisted by a team sent by the US National Transportation Safety Board which includes representatives from Boeing, the US Federal Aviation Administration and engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.

Privately owned Bellview Airlines launched operations in 1994. According to AvSoft’s ACAS database its operational fleet comprised five 737-200s before the accident. The crashed 737 was one of two the airline leased from GE Commercial Aviation Services.

This aircraft was reported to have been involved in an incident in March when it suffered an engine fire on take-off from Kano, which forced the aircraft to return to make an emergency landing.

Source: Flight International