Abuja, Nigeria A plane crash that killed 96 people in Nigeria might have been averted if the pilot had heeded advice from air traffic controllers to wait for a lightning storm to clear before taking off, the aviation minister said Monday.
Citing the decision as a possible cause of the third fatal passenger jet crash in this West African nation in a year, Aviation Minister Babalola Borishade said the government was preparing guidelines to stop such "reckless abuse of crew discretionary power."
Sunday's crash killed 96 of the 105 people aboard, including the pilot and Nigeria's top Muslim leader, Muhammadu Maccido. The jet smashed into savannah near Abuja airport and broke apart, scattering luggage and body parts across a wide area.
Both the aircraft's flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder were recovered and turned over to investigators, said Asgus Ozoka, who heads Nigeria's Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau.
Representatives of aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co. and engine maker Pratt & Whitney are expected in Nigeria today to help with the investigation, Ozoka said.
The plane crashed about one minute after takeoff in bad weather that Borishade said included rain, gusty winds, thunder and lightning.
Air traffic controllers warned the pilot of the doomed flight that the weather would worsen, he said.
"The air traffic controller re-emphasized the deteriorating weather condition and gave wind checks, which they (the crew) acknowledged," Borishade told reporters in Abuja.
But the pilot "refused to take advantage of the weather advice and the opinion of the (control) tower to exercise patience and allow the weather to clear for a safe takeoff."
A Virgin Airlines flight that had been on the runway about the same time did not take off because of strong winds, said Rowland Iyayi, head of the National Air Space Management Agency.
"The discretionary power of the air crew to override advice from the tower has been largely responsible for unfortunate consequences in the history of air mishaps in this country," Borishade said. "The federal government has directed the National Civil Aviation Authority to look into this and prepare appropriate guidelines to stop this reckless abuse of crew discretionary power ... to ensure safety."