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LISSA, Nigeria (Reuters) - A Nigerian airliner with 117 people aboard crashed and disintegrated in flames shortly after take-off from Lagos and there was no sign of survivors, officials and the Nigerian Red Cross said on Sunday.
Dismembered and burned body parts, fuselage fragments and engine parts were strewn over an area the size of a football field near the village of Lissa, about 30 km north of Lagos.
The Bellview Airlines plane, which left Lagos on Saturday night on a scheduled flight to the capital Abuja, left a smoking 70 foot crater in the marshy earth, uprooted trees and blew the roofs off nearby houses.
"I can't confirm if there are any survivors, but there is no trace so far," Red Cross General Secretary Abiodun Orebiyi told Reuters after visiting the scene. "The plane was totally destroyed. It was scattered everywhere."
A wig, human intestines, clothes, foam seats and a hand were visible wedged in the sodden earth. A cheque for 948,000 naira ($7,300) from the evangelical Deeper Life church was one of a number of personal papers found in the smouldering wreckage.
A U.S. official confirmed that a U.S. military officer was aboard the aircraft. Diplomats and airline officials said it was also believed to be carrying a top official of the Economic Community of West African States, a Nigerian presidential aide, two Britons and a German.
"It would be a miracle if anyone survived," one man at the crash site said.
Bellview Airlines flight 210 left at 8:45 p.m. (1945 GMT) and lost contact minutes later during a heavy electrical storm. It was carrying 111 passengers and six crew, the Federal Airport Authority said, updating an earlier figure of 110 passengers.
The pilot made a distress call after take-off, indicating the plane had a technical problem, a source at the presidency told Reuters.
Distraught relatives wailed and prayed at Lagos airport as a Bellview Airlines official read out a list of passengers. The list may not be entirely accurate because tickets are often transferred between people in Nigeria, the official said.
State television said the nation would hold three days of mourning for the dead.
The route the airliner was taking is heavily travelled, with dozens of flights each day between the port of Lagos -- one of the world's biggest cities -- and Abuja in the heart of Africa's most populous nation.
Earlier on Sunday, a spokesman for Oyo state, Adeola Oloko, said the crash was 150 kms north of Lagos and about half the passengers had survived. Emergency rescue helicopters went to that site but found nothing there.
Oloko later retracted the statement in a telephone call with Reuters. Aviation analysts said the fact the aircraft was at least 20 years old may have been a factor in the crash, but asked why there was so much confusion and delay in finding the crash site.
Bellview Airlines is a privately owned Nigerian airline and is popular with expatriates. It recently began international flights to India and London.
In Seattle, Boeing spokeswoman Liz Verdier said the company would work with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board if the board was asked to help with any investigation in Nigeria.
She said the 737 was the "workhorse of the world commercial jet fleet".
More than 140 people died in May 2002 when a Nigerian airliner slammed into a poor suburb in the northern city of Kano, killing people on board and on the ground. The aircraft ploughed into about 10 buildings shortly after take-off.
(Additional reporting by Tom Ashby and Kingsley Igwe in Lagos, and Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh in Abuja)
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