From Ernest Chinwo:
In a puzzling development, a commercial vehicle yesterday rammed into an aircraft at the tarmac at Margaret Ekpo International Airport, Calabar, Cross River State.
The vehicle was said to have sped through two gates of the Air Force Station into the airport, running into an Arik plane waiting to take off.
The taxi with registration number Cross River XA 254 KMM was painted with the state’s taxi colour of blue-white-blue. An eyewitness account said the cab went through the gates without any resistance, drove straight to the tarmac and hit the underbelly of the plane.
The incident occurred at about 2.35 pm. There were about 200 passengers on board the aircraft and they were successfully evacuated.
It was not certain how the driver of the vehicle passed the gates but the scene of the incident showed that the security men could not stop him. The reason for the driver’s behaviour was not known as at press time.
But he was arrested and handcuffed by security agents. Upon his arrest, the driver claimed that his mission was to blow up the plane and the passengers since according to him, Nigerians are unrepentant sinners.
The man, whose name is yet to be made known, spoke in one of the dialects of neighbouring Akwa Ibom State.
“Jesus is the redeemer. Everyone should repent and follow him because I will come back and complete the attack,” he said.
The pilot of the Abuja-bound plane marked 5N-MJJ, Captain Simon Robinson, crew members and passengers who had started boarding, ran for safety while the fire fighters rushed to the scene.
Security agents condoned off the area while an anti-bomb squad from the police combed the taxi and the surroundings. The outcome of the bomb search was not made public but top sources at the airport said “no bomb was found”.
Visibly-shaken passengers said they were just settling into the aircraft when they heard a loud thud. Then they heard the alarm and were asked to disembark. At first, they thought it was a fire only to find out when they stepped out that a car had run into the fuel section of the plane.
Pandemonium ensued and they scrambled towards the departure hall.
A passenger, who did not want his name in print said: “It was just a miracle that he was not successful because he got to our plane quite all right and hit it the way he wanted to. God sure has a hand in this. If he had a bomb on him, by now it would be a different story.”
One of the passengers, Mr. Odigha Odigha, said: “We were inside the plane about to take off when the alarm came and we were asked to disembark. Initially, we thought it was fire and everybody scrambled down and when we got down, we discovered it was a car right under the belly of the aircraft.”
Odigha, who is the Chairman of the state Forestry Commission, said he was shocked.
“How can a commercial car ram through two gates of the Air Force Station and get to an aircraft about to take off?” she asked.
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) Manager at the airport, Mr. Mahmud Sani, said everyone was taken unawares. He declined further comment, saying investigation was ongoing and that a team of investigators were expected from Lagos.
The Air Force Intelligence and Security Officer O. G. Akonye and other officers of the Air Force Base, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr. Tonye Ebitibituwa, and other personnel on ground also declined comment.
Later in the evening, four engineers of Arik Air arrived the airport for an on-the-spot assessment. They jacked up the plane in order to remove the taxi. Passengers were later airlifted to their destination with another Arik plane.
When THISDAY visited the scene, the two gates of the Air Force Station had partially collapsed. Part of the first gate was on the ground, while the poles of the second were badly shattered by the force of the car.
Senior officials of the state government, including the state’s Deputy Governor Mr. Efiok Cobham; the Commissioner for Information, Mr. Edet Asim; and the Special Adviser to the Governor on Public Transportation, Mr. Gabriel Okulaja, also visited the scene of the incident.
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