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Death toll rises in Nigeria crash



Air and Space Accidents

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria (CNN) -- Four people who initially survived a passenger plane crash in southern Nigeria have died, bringing the death toll to 107, officials in Nigeria told CNN.

Three people still survive from the Sosoliso Airlines aircraft, which was en route from the nation's capital Abuja when it crashed at Port Harcourt's airport Saturday afternoon during bad weather, acting director of Nigeria's federal aviation authority Femi Shittu said Monday.

The cause of the crash is still unclear. A government spokesman said at least 65 children from a Catholic secondary school in Abuja were killed, but Father Marc J. Roselli, principal of Loyala Jesuit College, said the school had determined from the flight manifest that only 58 students, ranging in age from 10 to 18, were on the flight. They were on their way home for the holidays, he said.

At least one American was among those on board, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Abuja told CNN. The woman was a nurse's aide, the spokeswoman said, but provided no further details and would not release the woman's name pending notification of relatives.

The airlines' managing director Oscar Ikwuemesi said the passenger list has been handed over to government authorities, and no information will be released until the families have been notified.

Rescue workers recovered 103 bodies from the crash, which were transported to two mortuaries in Port Harcourt, Shittu said. The identities of those killed will be released "at an appropriate time," he said.

The seven surviving passengers were taken to Gateway Memorial Hospital and the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, where four of them died Sunday, hospital officials reported.

Relatives clutching photographs have been crowding the morgues, searching for bodies of loved ones. (Full story)

Witnesses said the plane exploded after the crash-landing, and a massive fire engulfed the aircraft.

Sosoliso Airlines, a Nigerian company, was established in 1994 and began domestic flights to six cities in 2000.

There are no reports of previous crashes involving the airlines.

Nigeria's air safety record is patchy, with more than 10 crashes since 1995, killing over 470 people -- including Saturday's crash.


Most recently, a two-seater aircraft crashed at Kaduna International airport on November 29, killing two people, according to local media. A month earlier, a Bellview Airlines plane went down in bad weather near Lagos, killing all 117 people on board.

"I mean three air crashes in less than eight weeks -- it is another national tragedy and Mr. President (Olusegun Obasanjo) is absolutely devastated about this," said Nigeria's Minister of Information Frank Nweke.

One of the passengers killed in the October 22 crash was an American, Maj. Joseph J. Haydon Jr., 40, of Fredericksburg, Va., who was assigned to the Office of Defense Cooperation in the U.S. Embassy in Abuja.

Nigerian officials, including President Obasanjo, have promised to improve the country's airline safety standards.

Government spokesman Femi Fani-Kayode vowed a full investigation into the cause of Saturday's crash.

"We will get to the bottom of it, we will ascertain the cause and the government and Mr. President will do everything within his power to ensure that this sort of thing does not happen within our airspace again," he said.

CNNRadio's Raul Bali and journalists Christian Allen Purefoy and David Clark in Lagos contributed to this report.

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