Passengers say the crew offered no explanation after a visible engine fire caused the cabin of the passenger plane to fill with smoke.
An Aero Contractors flight from Port Harcourt International Airport (PHC) to Murtala Muhammed International Airport (LOS) on Tuesday left passengers feeling lucky to be alive. Accounts of the tense scene aboard the domestic Nigerian airliner were posted by terrified passengers shortly after the aircraft landed safely. The travelers say the lack of serious injuries was remarkable considering the fact that smoke was reportedly pouring into the cabin for the last 35 minutes of the harrowing journey.
Passenger Oriakwu Okwesilieze, who posted a video of the chilling incident on Twitter, questions why no oxygen masks were deployed. She says that crew members instead encouraged passengers to breathe through handkerchiefs or other articles of clothing. “20 minutes after take off, our aero contractor flight started smoking. For 35 min we were chanting prayers, screaming, panicking,” she wrote. “Everyone is shouting sue, sue but I’m just grateful to be alive and on ground. Funny thing is no apology or explanation was given to anyone.”
Every One on this aero contractor flight could have died today but for God. I'm grateful. Nigerian airports need new directors/ flights pic.twitter.com/KB65yWRJYw
— ORIAKU (OKWESILIEZE) (@puffypearl) April 18, 2017
According to Sahara Reporters, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has opened an official investigation into the troubling in-flight incident. The newspaper reports that the airline did not inform investigators about the episode until the following day.
Airline officials dismissed the notion that an engine fire was the cause of smoke entering the cabin of the Boeing 737 aircraft. A company spokesperson told The Nigerian Daily Post that the smoke likely started in the cargo hold of the plane and was circulated through the plane by the air-conditioning system. In media accounts, however, Simon Tumba also suggested that passengers had triggered a lavatory smoke alarm just before the incident. Tumba noted that the aircraft had passed an inspection by mechanics just prior to takeoff.
According to airline officials, the plane did not at any point lose cabin pressure which would have automatically caused passengers’ oxygen masks to drop and that damp towels were provided to passengers as a precaution. The carrier publicly lauded the captain of the flight for his “professionalism.”