Nigerian airliner crashes - 104 feared dead

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A Nigerian airliner reportedly carrying 104 people, including the man regarded as the spiritual leader of Muslims in Nigeria, crashed in a storm today just after taking off from the airport in this West African nation's capital.

Dozens were killed, and aviation officials said six people survived. Debris from the shattered plane was strewn over an area the size of a soccer field where the plane crashed in a wooded area, an Associated Press reporter on the scene said.

The crash site was about three kilometers from the end of the runway at the airport in Abuja. State radio said the Boeing 727 came down shortly after taking off from the airport in Abuja during a storm. Witnesses said there was a rainstorm at around the time the aircraft took off.Ibrahim Farinloye, spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency, said the plane was carrying 104 passengers and crew members. Speaking at the crash site, he said "six survivors have been evacuated to hospital."

A local radio station, Ray Power FM, reported the plane was owned by Aviation Development Co., a private Nigerian airline.The aircraft was headed to the northwest city of Sokoto, Channels and state radio said. Channels had earlier reported the plane was headed to Lagos.

Among those aboard was the sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Maccido, according to Mustapha Shehu, spokesman for the Sokoto state government.Maccido is the head of the National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Nigeria. The body announces when Muslim fasts should begin and end, and decides issues of policy for Nigeria's overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims.Shehu said the sultan's son, Muhammed Maccido, a senator, was also aboard, along with Abdulrahman Shehu Shagari, son of former Nigerian President Shehu Shagari, who was in office between 1979 and 1983. Theirs and the sultan's fates were not immediately clear.

At the airport in Abuja, security officials are keeping away a crush of people seeking information about friends or family aboard the plane.President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered an immediate investigation into the cause, his spokeswoman Remi Oyo said in a statement.Oyo said Obasanjo was "deeply and profoundly shocked and saddened ... he condoles 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.Nigeria's air industry is notoriously unsafe. Last year, two planes flying domestic routes crashed within seven weeks of each other, killing 224 people.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 school children 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 considered unworthy were grounded.