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VULNERABILITY IN THE SKY ABOARD ARIK AIR FLIGHT W3 156


By Clifford Agugoesi  
 Published August 8th, 2011

I would like to praise the name of the Lord God Almighty, who is instrumental to my safety, in the course of the quality flight experience I have enjoyed since I started commuting by air, for over two decades now. For me, there has not really been any moment on air I had cause to panic for fear of any real or imagined danger in the skies!

I am not dwelling on Aurora Vulnerabilities in this piece, although this is not sweeping under the carpet the urgency for Nigeria to begin planning against cyber-security threats to our critical infrastructure like power plants and the telecommunication system. My focus is rather on an Aerial Vulnerability I experienced while on a flight from Abuja to Lagos.

I had an international telecommunications summit to anchor, but on learning the event had been postponed till next month, I had to shift all my attention and energy for the second event- the 62nd edition of the Telecom Parliament at the instance of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, built for the National Universities Commission, NUC, on June 09, 2011.
 
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Bolstered by the confidence in previous flights, both local and international, I had to rely on Biabol Travels & Tours Limited, to make my reservations at Arik Air. Our Flight W3 151 from Lagos to Abuja , billed to take off 7.00am Wednesday, June 08, did not take off until some minutes later, obviously due to the sluggish check-in exercise, was smooth and the landing at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, was smooth, inspite of the early morning downpour.

The only burden I struggled with, as our aircraft manoeuvered the skies, was my inability to travel home June 07, to Orlu in Imo State, for the burial of my causin, Ngozi Emejuru-Nnadiekwe, who died early the previous month, after I had assured my relatives I would be home for it.

The Consumer Parliament over, I went to our Abuja office and held some discussions with the manager before heading back to my hotel room near The Heritage Building in Wuse Zone 3. I made up my mind not to do first flight, so I could rest properly before heading back to Lagos. This time, I boarded a taxi from my hotel and made for the airport wherein I booked with Arik for the return to Lagos.

At the Departure Lounge of the local wing of the airport, I had struck rhythm with Dr. Gabriel Gana Bake of the Federal University of Minna, Niger State, who was on his way for a presentation in one of the neighbouring countries. Dr. Gabriel and I discussed a lot from life outside our shores to corruption in the polity, through poor airport facilities to attitude of airport staff and safety in our airspace, among others.

Our Abuja to Lagos Flight W3 156, billed to take off at 12.00pm did not leave until some minutes later, as in the flight from Lagos to Abuja, June 08. As the aircraft taxied on the runway with ‘some roughness’ the discussions I just had with Dr. Gabriel came alive. Gabriel and I were now separated by some distance aboard the flight ( he was on seat 11 while I was on seat 15), so we could not further our discussion nor share our experience on the not-very- smooth-taxiing on the runway.

I knew the captain was competent, so I quickly started praying my Rosary until the anxiety of the taxiing on the runway faded for a smooth take off! At about 1.15pm, Cabin Supervisor Laura announces: “Please, if there is any medical doctor aboard could he make himself available?” Instantly, my confidence was shaken. I had rounded off my Rosary, but was still cluthing it on my right hand. Anxiety mounted and every passenger stretched their necks towards our direction. I could hear somebody mutter that an asthmatic was about fainting in the aircraft. As I looked behind, a middle aged lady was already gasping for breath. All the cabin crew rallied to her help and put an airtube on her nostrils to aid her breathing. A volunteer doctor came from behind my seat, but from interactions between him and the crew it was clear there was no Ventolin to help the poor lady. As God would have it, a passenger I suspect is from India, opened his luggage and brought out a Ventolin pack and instructed the lady should “use it and keep it with her.”

The volunteer doctor shook the pack and gave the lady some helpings from it. He assured nothing would happen to her, but said “she might fall asleep for a while.” Again, turning to the male passenger next to the asthmatic, the volunteer doctor said: “Please, continue to ask her questions so that at least she talks.” I was praying silently for the lady when I noticed the next passenger to me, obviously a Moslem,( from the way he conducted himself during prayers)doing the same. Anxiety gave way to joy when I heard the lady tell the crew, “thank you, I am ok.” I smiled at her and told her sorry, too. This whole episode lasted for about 15minutes!

When the aircraft touched down at MM2 Lagos, the Cabin Supervisor again made the usual announcements, including, but not limited to all phones being put off. However, one elderly man flouted this instruction and this action of his drew opprobrium from my seat partner and I.

When we alighted from the flight, I approached the volunteer doctor and asked for his name. In a hurry he said Dr. Dunka. When I asked for his nationality he told me: ‘’I am very much Nigerian, proudly so.” I congratulated him and wished him well before rejoining Dr. Gabriel.

The lesson from this account is that many in-flight deaths occur due mainly to inadequate medical facilities and non-existent medical personnel as well as stubbornness and carelessness on the part of both cabin crew and passengers on board. In the case of Flight W3 156, Arik Cabin Crew were alive to their responsibility and for this, I give them kudos. However, all airlines must ensure they make adequate arrangement for medical equipment and facilities to be onboard their flights to prevent avoidable deaths.

The airline industry regulators in Nigeria and elsewhere must rise to this challenge and ensure that passengers safety and security are assured while they commute by air.

· Agugoesi , Editor of Africa Telecom & IT magazine, contributed this article from 4A Aro-Omoba Crescent, Off Simbiat Abiola Way, Ikeja, Lagos, vide cliffordagugoesi@gmail.com

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