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Nigeria plane carrying 116 crashes - state radio

October 23, 2005

Nigeria plane carrying 116 crashes - state radio

By Tom Ashby

ABUJA (Reuters) - A Nigerian airliner with 116 people on board including several high ranking officials crashed shortly after taking off from Lagos en route to the capital Abuja, state radio reported on Sunday. 

Bellview Airlines flight 210 took off at 8:45 p.m. (1945 GMT) and lost contact with the control tower during a heavy electrical storm. 

An airports authority official told Reuters the airliner was carrying 116 people: 110 passengers and six crew. Nigerian media earlier said 114 were on board. 

"It has been confirmed in the early hours of this morning that a Boeing 737 Bellview Airlines plane which took off from Lagos ... has crashed. Some high level government officials are believed to be on board," state radio said. 

Initially, it was not known whether the Boeing 737-200 had crashed, been hijacked or had made an emergency landing. 

Authorities embarked on a land and sea search in the early hours of Sunday and said they would deploy helicopters at first light, the airports authority official said. 

But the pilot made a distress call minutes after take-off on Saturday night, indicating the plane had a technical problem, a source at the presidency told Reuters. 

It was not known which senior officials were on board but dozens of flights run 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. 

Boeing spokeswoman Liz Verdier told CNN by telephone from Seattle the company would work with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board if the board were asked to help with any investigation. 

She said the 737 was the "workhorse of the world commercial jet fleet". 

A worried relative of one of the passengers at Lagos airport, Samuel Ojeikedion, said the airline had not given him much information. 

"I am worried because nobody is talking to me. The airline only said it took off and lost contact three minutes later," he said. 

The privately owned Nigerian airline is popular with expatriates and Western diplomats feared several of their citizens could have been on board. 

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. 

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