What might have been a disastrous plane crash at the yet to be completed N40billion Asaba International airport was averted at the weekend when an Overland Airlines plane was forced to go and land at the Benin Airport following communication equipment failure at the troubled airport.
The pilot of the fully loaded commercial aircraft, registration number 5N-BND, which had come in from Lagos, was said to have lost contact with the Asaba airport tower as a result of which he could not be guided for landing.
According to two of the passengers who gave their names simply as James and Sonia, the aircraft hovered around the airport for about three hours, without successfully contacting the control tower. His efforts to land being unsuccessful, the pilot took the plane to the Benin Airport where he landed.
It was gathered that after the landing, the plane remained at the Benin Airport for another two hours before it took off again, but the passengers, in fear of their lives, refused to board it.
Attempts to get comments from the frightened pilot, who stayed on the runaway beside the plane at the Benin Airport proved abortive as airport security men would not allow this reporter to speak to him.
Some of the distressed passengers are calling on the Nigeria's aviation authorities to look into the situation at the the Asaba Airport in order to avert the death of passengers attempting to use the airport.
They expressed conviction that the Asaba Airport is not near completion and that the Delta state government hurriedly opened only for political reasons that may lead to serious loss of life in the future.
As of the time of this report, work continues at the controversial airport, and Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan has yet to disclose the amount of money that has been expended on the project despite the agitation of many Deltans.
Instead, in March, the governor, in loud fashion brought in an Overland aircraft for a flight test at the yet to be completed airport, a comical but dangerous occasion in which cell phones were used to control the pilots efforts to land the plane. Investigations have revealed that top government officials as such as the state Assembly Speaker, Deputy Governor and even the governor himself don’t patronize the Asaba Airport but prefer to travel down to the Benin Airport to travel by air.
In July this year, Governor Uduaghan, desperate to prove people wrong about the airport, drafted the Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah, to his office in Asaba, an occasion in which huge amounts of money allegedly exchanged hands. Shortly after that clandestine meeting with the Minister, Mrs. Oduah expressed satisfaction with the high standard of facilities in the Asaba Airport, declaring that they could be compared to some of the "best" in the world.
The Minister said the airport met global specifications and standard, noting, “I am very very excited over this airport. It is very very wonderful and has met global standard”.
It would be recalled that contractors who executed projects at the Airport staged a mass protest, which disrupted operations there, over debts owed them by the sole contractor ULO Construction Company. The chairman of ULO, Mr. Uche Okpunor, when addressing the aggrieved protesters, accused Governor Uduaghan of not fulfilling his contract financial obligations.