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ADC Airlines Flight 86: Falling from the sky

Updated: Jan 2, 2019

ADC Airlines Flight 86 was a Nigerian domestic flight operated by ADC Airlines from Port Harcourt to Lagos. On November 7 1996, the crew of the Boeing 727-200 operating the flight lost control of the aircraft while avoiding a mid-air collision on approach; the aircraft crashed inverted at a very high speed, killing all 144 passengers and crew on board.

This post is dedicated to the memory of the 10 crew members and 134 passengers who met their unfortunate demise on the ill-fated flight, which crashed during descent into Lagos, at Itoikin/Ejinrin near Epe, into the Lagos Lagoon at about 5:17pm. 22 years have gone by, but it still feels like yesterday...

The ill-fated Boeing 727-200

At the mere mention of 'ADC', Nigerians are reminded of the series of unfortunate incidents and accidents that trailed its wake and became an integral reason for the airline’s eventual exit from the Nigerian airspace.

For the many beautiful souls on-board the aircraft, it was just another normal day. Flight 86 claimed the lives of many wonderful people and threw the nation into a state of deep mourning. The aviation industry especially was shaken by the unceremonious exit of the highly decorated Captain Dafe Sama - who was at the controls of the aircraft when it went down. Let's not forget the families of the victims. In some cases, some families lost their sole breadwinners, while in other cases, entire families were lost.

Falling from the sky

It was a routine flight from Port Harcourt to Lagos. Flight 86 had just begun its descent into Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, at flight level (FL) 240 (approximately 24,000 feet). At the same time, another aircraft operated by Triax had just departed Lagos en route Enugu, climbing at FL160.

Late Captain Dafe Sama

The Lagos Air Traffic Controller (ATC) cleared the crew of Flight 86 to descend, but erroneously thought that he had earlier cleared Flight 86 to descend to 10,000 ft (3,000 m) and that it was below the Triax aircraft.

This error set off a chain of catastrophic events. The descent from FL240 caused Flight 86 to conflict with the Triax flight at FL160. The cockpit crew were thrown into a state of disarray when the traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) unexpectedly sounded a warning alert. In a dramatic attempt to avoid a fatal collision with the Triax aircraft, the crew rolled the aircraft at an excessive bank angle, which led to a total loss of control and within sixteen (16) seconds, the aircraft was upside down and diving towards the ground at near Mach 1 speed. Within those 16 seconds the aircraft’s speed shot up from 280 knots to almost the speed of sound! The scenes from the flight cabin and deck could be likened to a scene straight out of the worst horror movie you could ever imagine. What could have been going through the minds of those on board? Did they have time to process what was happening? Was it swift? Or was it slow? The answers, we’ll never know, as the inverted aircraft disintegrated on impact into the lagoon killing all on board.

The primary cause of the accident was determined to be an error on the part of the air traffic controller. According to the Air Safety Network (ASN), "The crash was caused by the untidy traffic separation by the radar controller, which resulted from the vectoring of ADK 086 towards the track of the opposite traffic TIX 185". Further investigation also found the pilot-in-command to be at fault for banking the aircraft at a dangerously excessive bank angle.

Following the crash, a memorial was erected at the riverside of Itoikin river in Ikosi-Ejirin Local Council Development Area in honour of the victims of the ill-fated flight.

Embarrassing state of ADC flight 086 memorial

Although the loss of all victims on-board flight 86 is already heart-breaking, it is even more painful to discover the extent of neglect the government has paid towards the memorial.

The crash site has now become home to dangerous reptiles and weeds, preventing even families and well-wishers from safely visiting the area to mourn their lost ones.

When will the government begin to value human lives in Nigeria?

"They say time heals all wounds, but that presumes the source of the grief is finite". To all those affected, we extend our sincere condolences. May the souls of your dearly departed continue to rest in peace.

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