Nigeria's Muslim leader dies plane crashes with 100 on board

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The Independent Online

The spiritual leader of Nigeria's Muslims was among those killed when a plane carrying 106 people crashed in a storm near the capital, Abuja. The aircraft came down just after take-off and aviation officials said only seven people survived.

Eyewitnesses said the plane, a Boeing 737 operated by the Nigerian airline ADC, was still on fire at the edge of the runway hours after it crashed at about midday. Debris from the shattered plane, body parts and personal belongings of passengers were strewn over an area the size of a football field.

CNN reported smoke rising from the plane's mangled and smouldering fuselage as rescue workers pulled out burnt corpses. About 50 bodies were gathered in a field nearby. The tail of the plane was hanging from a tree. It was the third major air disaster in Nigeria in little over a year.

The Muslim leader, the Sultan of Sokoto Mohammadu Maccido, and his son, a senator, and other leaders were on board the flight to the city of Sokoto. The sultan, a widely-respected figure who helped curb bloodshed from religious fighting in the central state of Plateau, led Nigeria's 70 million Muslims. TV bulletins last night showed his burial.

A government spokesman said the cause of the crash was unknown. Nigerian state radio reported that the plane crashed during a storm.

A spokeswoman for the president, Olusegun Obasanjo, said the leader was "deeply and profoundly shocked and saddened'' by the news of the crash".

About half of Nigeria's 130 million citizens are Muslims. The country is the most populous in Africa and the continent's leading oil exporter.

The Nigerian government had already announced a plan to overhaul the aviation industry following a series of disasters last year. President Obasanjo blamed corruption and corner-cutting for poor safety standards. Last month 10 senior army commanders were killed when their military plane crashed.

Last year, two planes flying domestic routes crashed within seven weeks of each other, killing 224 people. On 22 October 2005, a Boeing 737-200 plane from Bellview airlines crashed soon after take off from Lagos, killing all 117 people aboard. On 10 December, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 plane operated by Sosoliso Airlines crashed, killing 107 people, most of them schoolchildren going home for Christmas.

The authorities blamed the Sosoliso crash on bad weather and pilot error. The investigation into the Bellview crash is continuing.

ADC, which operated the plane in yesterday's crash, is a popular domestic airline with a fleet of ageing Boeing aircraft. The minister of the Federal Capital Territory said only a detailed investigation could determine the cause.

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