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Nigeria crash: 65 children killed



Air and Space Accidents

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria (CNN) -- Officials in Nigeria say they are investigating the cause of a passenger plane crash that killed 107 people, including at least 65 secondary school children.

Four more passengers died overnight with three still surviving 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 told CNN Sunday.

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 (Olusegun Obasanjo) will do everything within his power to ensure that this sort of thing does not happen within our airspace again," he said.

At least one American was among those on board, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Abuja told CNNRadio. 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.

Deputy government spokesman Honour Sirawoo told journalist David Clarke that at least 65 children were among those killed.

The children were students from a Catholic secondary school in Abuja, who returning home for the holidays, according to The Rev. Felix Femi Ajakaye, spokesman for the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria in the nation's capital, Abuja.

The airlines' managing director Oscar Ikwuemesi confirmed "there were a large number of children aboard the flight," without offering any details.

He said the passenger list has been handed over to government authorities, and no information will be released until the families have been notified.

The students, who ranged in age from 10 to 18 years old, attended Loyola Jesuit College in Abuja, the reverend said.

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.

Relatives clutching photographs crowded the morgues on Sunday, searching for bodies of loved ones. (Full story)

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.

Witnesses said the plane exploded after the crash-landing, and a massive fire engulfed the aircraft. The exact cause though remains unclear.


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 airline.

Nigeria's air safety record is mixed, 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 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.

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

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