600 pilgrims from Saudi escape death as aircraft skids off runway at Minna airport
At least 600 pilgrims returning to the country from Saudi Arabia escaped death at the Minna International Airport as the Max Airline aircraft which conveyed them back to Nigeria skidded off the runway on Saturday.
According to a source at the airport, the incident occurred around 5am on Saturday.
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The source said the aircraft, a Boeing 744 with registration number 5N/DBK, developed technical fault which resulted in its forced landing.
The source said that the development caused damage to one of the four engines of the aircraft.
He said part of the tarmac and facilities at the airport were also damaged by the aircraft as a result of the accident.
The source said the passengers were rushed out of the plane after it halted off the runway.
“Nobody died, but I have never seen this type of thing in my life, only God saved them from a terrible disaster,” he said.
“The fire that would have followed would have spread to all parts of the airport because we don’t have fire fighting vehicles in this airport.”
Officials of the Accident Investigation Bureau from Lagos have reportedly inspected the partly damaged aircraft, after which they went into a closed door meeting.
Hajiya Isah, public relations officer of the state Pilgrims Welfare Board, confirmed the incident to journalists, but did not give details.
Isah said the incident would not affect the return journey of the over 2, 000 pilgrims from the state still in Saudi Arabia.
Security operatives at the airport prevented reporters from gaining access to the tarmac for close inspection of the damaged aircraft.
But Dahiru Mangal, chairman of Max Air, denied that one of the engines of the aircraft developed fault mid-air.
He attributed the incident at the airport to lack of runaway traffic lights and bad weather.
Mangal asked how a plane with 600 passengers could crash land without a scratch on any of the passengers.
“The reports that our plane crashed landed is untrue is a mischief making calculated at tarnishing our long service of safely transportation of Nigerians and others,” he said in a statement.
“Our Aircraft never developed any engine problems but rather whether at the airport and the lack of runway light forced us to save landed.”
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He said the pilgrims were in good health and have since met their families, while the aircraft is refuelling for further transportation of passengers.