|The Sultan of Sokoto, Mohammadu Maccido, pictured in 2004, who presided over Nigeria's Supeme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), was among those who perished, Sokoto State spokesman Mustapha Sheu said|
About 100 people, including the spiritual leader of Nigeria's Muslims, were killed when a commercial airliner crashed moments after takeoff in the capital Abuja, officials and aviation sources said.
"There were 104 people on board. This figure included six crew members," Sam Adurogboye of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority told AFP. He added that at least three people had survived the crash.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Mohammadu Maccido, who presided over Nigeria's Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), was among those killed, Sokoto State spokesman Mustapha Sheu said.
The sultan was the spiritual head of the more than 50 million Muslims in the west African country of some 130 million people. With him died his son, who was a senator, and other officials from Sokoto, Sheu said.
The Boeing 737 passenger jet, owned by the domestic ADC airline, had taken off in the morning from the southern commercial city of Lagos for Sokoto in the north, via the federal capital Abuja, in central Nigeria.
The plane crashed on farmland some four kilometres (three miles) out from Abuja airport and burst into flames, according to aviation officials, who were unable to give any explanation for the disaster. The plane was 23 years old, officials said.
The state-run News Agency of Nigeria said that top-ranking government officials, senators, politicians and the son of Nigeria's former president Shehu Shagari (1979-1983) had been on the ill-fated airliner.
"Information about the crash is still sketchy. We are still trying to get the manifest," said Ngozi Wellington, spokeswoman for the airline.
At least three or four people survived the accident, according to officials and NAN reports.
An AFP reporter who visited the scene said security men had cordoned off the crash site and only rescuers and volunteers including Red Cross personnel were allowed into the area.
The bodies of victims had been recovered and evacuated while rescuers were trying to clear the scattered and broken parts of the plane. Smouldering smoke enveloped the site as burnt parts, bits and pieces of the wreckage of the airliner littered the area.
The correspondent saw ambulances and fire-fighting equipment moving in and out to assist in the rescue operation.
"The plane came down when it ran into stormy weather as soon as it took off," said an official of the Federal Airport Authority who did not want to be named.
"We have already started an investigation", the head of Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau, Asgus Ozoka told AFP.
"We are devastated by the tragic plane crash. It has left the Muslim faithfuls without leadership," said the secretary-general of the NSCIA, Lateef Adegbite. "The sultan was a genuine, fearless and committed leader."
His body was taken to Sokoto and buried after a ceremony at the palace.
The Nigerian head of state was shocked and has ordered an investigation, his spokeswoman said in a statement.
"President Olusegun Obasanjo is deeply and profoundly shocked and saddened by the news of the reported air crash of an airliner in the environ of the federal capital territory today," Oluremi Oyo said in a statement.
"The president has called for a full report and investigation into the crash. He condoled all Nigerians and especially the families and friends and associates of those who may have been on board the airline," she said.
A spokesman for the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority said the Boeing 737-2B7 was manufactured on October 20, 1983 and underwent comprehensive maintenance on April 18, 2000 and a C-check (routine maintenance) in July 2005.
Last month, 14 military officers, including 10 generals, were killed when their small airforce plane crashed into the hills in central Benue State.
The military officers were on their way to Obudu in southern Cross River State to attend the annual chief of army staff conference on September 17 when the Dornier 228-221 crashed into hills minutes before arrival.
In December, a Sosoliso commercial jet crashed on landing in the oil city of Port Harcourt, killing all the 117 people on board.
Two months earlier, a Bellview commercial plane crashed in Lisa village, near Lagos, killing more than 100 people on board.