LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Mourners silently walked between rows of the dead from a plane crash in Nigeria that killed the 153 people aboard the airliner and others on the ground, peering into burned faces in hopes of claiming the remains of their loved ones.
Those in grief passed by more than a dozen bodies in a Lagos hospital parking lot. Onlookers wore surgical masks to block out the smell. As family members softly wept and held one another, the government announced Tuesday it has indefinitely suspended Dana Air’s license, grounding the carrier that operated the MD-83 airplane that crashed in the country’s largest city and now faces widespread public anger.
“We are without eyes,” said Jennifer Enanana, as she sobbed in the parking lot over the death of her younger brother in the crash. She had lost another brother within the year. “We don’t have anybody that will protect us that can stand like a man and defend us. Dana stole him.”
The MD-83 went down in Lagos’ Iju-Ishaga neighborhood, about five miles from Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International Airport. The area has grown dramatically over the decades since British colonialists first established an airstrip there, as Lagos surges toward becoming the largest city in Africa.
That population pressure has seen homes, business and industrial sites shoot up along the approach route used by aircraft landing at the airport, changing what used to be forests and wetlands into a sprawling megacity. The development has put the population there at risk with many aviation disasters in Nigeria over the last two decades. Emergency workers fear a number of on-the-ground deaths from Sunday’s crash that saw the aircraft slam into two apartment buildings, a printing press and a woodworking shop.
By midday Tuesday, searchers had recovered 150 bodies, according to Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency. It was not yet known how many people died on the ground.
Emergency workers were still looking through the debris for bodies and one damaged building seemed on the verge of collapse.
Fearful family members who once crowded the neighborhood arrived Tuesday at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, where authorities had placed the 43 identifiable bodies so far collected from the crash.
Professor David Oke, the chief medical director of the hospital, told the dozens of relatives and diplomats gathered there that at least 29 had already been identified, including the bodies of a Chinese citizen and a Canadian.
Federal and state authorities have discussed using DNA testing to identify other bodies, though that likely would require massive assistance from laboratories outside the country.
Popular anger has risen in the country against the airline since the crash. On Tuesday, the Nigerian government indefinitely suspended Dana Air’s license to fly in Africa’s most population nation, said Joe Obi, a spokesman for the aviation ministry. Obi said officials took the action as a safety precaution.
Officials with Dana Air could not be immediately reached for comment. A statement posted to the company’s website described the airline as “professionally managed,” saying the flight’s captain had logged 18,500 flight hours, with 7,100 hours on an MD-83.
Dana Air said the plane that crashed had its last safety inspection on May 30 and was certified to fly by Nigerian regulators. However, oversight remains lax in oil-rich Nigeria, whose government remains hobbled by mismanagement and corruption.
The cause of the crash on a sunny, clear Sunday afternoon remained uncertain. The crew radioed the tower that they had engine trouble shortly before the plane went down.
Late Monday, emergency workers recovered both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder, said Tunji Oketunbi, a spokesman for the Accident Investigation Bureau, which probes airplane crashes in Nigeria.
“We will take them abroad for decoding and that will help our analysis,” Oketunbi said Tuesday. “We will know what happened to the aircraft shortly before it crashed.”
An investigator from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board was expected to join Nigerian authorities to help them determine a cause for the crash, Oketunbi said.
Associated Press writers Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria; Matthew Lee in Washington; Dave Collins in West Hartford, Conn.; and Mike Graczyk in Houston, Texas, contributed to this report.