The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has commenced an investigation of the engine fire yesterday aboard Aero Contractors Boeing 737 flight NG316, which filled the flight cabin with smoke and almost killed the passengers.

The management of the troubled carrier also said today it has commenced its own investigation of the incident, but commended the flight pilot for professionalism.

There were 53 passengers, comprising of 52 adult passengers and a 7-month old child, on board the aircraft, a routine Port Harcourt-Lagos flight.A source close to NCAA told our correspondent that inspectors of the regulatory agency have commenced the investigation to find out what went wrong.  The aircraft had departed Port Harcourt at 4:08 pm local time, but smoke began to come fill the cabin 30 minutes into the flight.

The NCAA source told our correspondent that the airline reported the incident to the agency’s Airworthiness Directorate today, adding that it is a serious incident that must be closely looked at.

A statement by Simon Tumba, the media consultant to the airline, said that the management ordered the investigation.

Tumba said preliminary reports indicated that at about 24,000 feet at about 1645 GMT, around 75 nautical miles to Lagos, the cabin crew observed that the cabin was misty.  That fact was reported to the flight captain, who briefed the passengers accordingly and assured them of a safe landing in Lagos in a couple of minutes.

He said the company engineers had carried out the routine systems pre-flight checks during which everything was normal.

He also disclosed that when the aircraft was descending, a passenger went into the lavatory, after which the lavatory smoke detector alarm came on. “The cabin crew again reported this incident to the Captain and by this time the smoke was getting denser in the cabin. Ready and armed with “Aft Cargo Smoke” indication in the flight deck, the crew carried out the smoke dispersal procedures and contacted air traffic control at 1655 GMT, requesting for emergency support services and proceeded to Lagos, which is the airport with the full complement of emergency support.

“At this stage again, the cabin crew reassured the passengers and handed out wet towels to them as a precautionary measure for such incidents,” he added.

The statement commended the pilot and the entire crew for the professionalism they displayed in handling the situation and regretted any inconveniences the incident might have caused the passengers.  It expressed the assurance the airline would get to the root cause of the matter.

Aero Contractors, which has been under the receivership of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria for about five years, has seen its fortune nosedive from 18 aircraft in 2010 to just two Boeing 737s.

Aero airlines

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