Exactly 16 years ago today, on October 29, 2006, ADC Airlines Flight 053 crashed in a cornfield shortly after takeoff from Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (ABV) in Abuja, killing 96 out of 105 people onboard. After the crash, Nigeria’s air safety regulations improved significantly, with no more major incidents until 2012.
ADC Airlines Flight 053 route map. Image: GCmaps
The aircraft involved in the accident was a 23-year-old Boeing 737-2B7 registered 5N-BFK. The plane was delivered new to US Air on October 20, 1983, and acquired by ADC Airlines on September 2, 2003. Under the maintenance schedule, the aircraft had received new engines in 2005, and the logbook did not indicate any known issues with the plane.
Wind gusts were intensifying
In charge of the flight was 50-year-old Captain Charles Kolawole Atanda, assisted by 54-year-old First Officer Celestine Okkoneh.
ADC Airlines Flight 053 was a regularly scheduled domestic flight from Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (ABV) in the country’s capital of Abuja to Sadiq Abubakar III International Airport in Sokoto (SKO).
Captain Atanda received startup clearance at 11:15 and permission to taxi at 11:21. The crew then asked air traffic control (ATC) for information about wind conditions and was told that it was varying in direction with a speed of eight knots. The controller also warned the pilots that it would likely intensify with gusts up to 35 knots.
As the aircraft waited on the runway to takeoff, the controller told the pilots that the wind was blowing at 15 knots. This prompted a Virgin Nigeria Airways pilot to say that he would wait for the wind to die down as he believed it was blowing more substantially than the 15 knots that the tower was reporting. Captain Atanda, however, disagreed and requested permission to takeoff. Again the controllers relayed information about the wind gusts, which the pilots acknowledged.
The pilot in command mismanaged the windshear
At 11:20, the aircraft took off from Runway 22, and immediately, the wind went from a headwind to a tailwind. The captain added more thrust as he pulled back on the yoke until the plane was at a 30-degree plus angle. As the nose pitched up, the airflow to the engines was disrupted, causing them to experience a compressor stall. Now with no power and at an upwards angle, the plane stalled and rolled to the left as it plummeted towards the ground. When the aircraft hit the ground, the 24,000 pounds of fuel ignited in a massive explosion.
After several unsuccessful attempts to contact the plane Abuja Flight Communication Centre was then advised to inform National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in Kano about losing contact with ADC Flight 053.
When rescuers reached the crash site, the only part of the aircraft still intact was a tail section. A stewardess and eight passengers sitting there survived, while the other 96 passengers and crew died.
The investigation into ADC Airlines Flight 053
In charge of the investigation was the Nigerian Aircraft Investigation Bureau (AIB), assisted by representatives from the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The final report into the crash concluded that the pilots had taken off in adverse weather conditions and had failed to operate windshear recovery procedures properly. This resulted in the plane stalling at an altitude from which recovery was not possible.
Contributing factors to the crash were:
- A lack of company operating procedures for taking off in adverse weather
- A lack of simulator training in the effects of windshear
The crash of ADC Airlines Flight 053 sparked a national protest over aviation safety in Nigeria. The crash was the eleventh Nigerian airliner crash in eleven years, in which more than 500 people died.