But to their siblings, parents and teachers, the pains are as fresh as if the tragedy occurred only yesterday, a loss of monumental proportions that need not have been if the necessary infrastructure been in place at the Port Harcourt Airport that sad day.
Already, preparations for the fifth anniversary memorial lecture are in top gear.
Big banners with embossed photographs of the students hang conspicuously inside the imposing hall built in their memory.
On the wall that leads to the entrance of the Hall, their names were alphabetically written on a plaque, further illustrating how dear the students are to the institution. Faculty, students and parents as well as friends and relations, still feel deep pain as they are daily confronted with the reality of losing their children in one of the fatal air crashes recorded in the history of plane crashes in Nigeria, killing over120 people, among them, the 60 “Angels”, as they are referred to, precisely on October 10, 2005 at the Port-Harcourt Airport.
The ill-fated Sosoliso Airlines (Flight 1145) DC-9 plane marked 5N-BFD crashed as it was at its final point of descent.
The Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) was later to blame the crash on ‘wind shear’.
‘Wind shear’ in aviation terminology is a change in wind speed or direction with height in the atmosphere, which could be very dangerous for planes at take-off or landing. It is so much-dreaded in aviation that pilots are advised to avoid it by studying the weather pattern before take-off.
Accidents involving Sosoliso in 2005 and ADC in 2006 according to reports were attributed to the phenomenon of ‘wind shear’.
To make air travel safer, many airports now have wind shear detection equipment near the ends of runways to warn aircraft if it is too dangerous to land.
On Deecmber 10, 2005, friends, relations and some parents were waiting anxiously at the airport to receive their wards.
They were not bothered about the four-hour delay announced by the carrier.
All that mattered to them was to be re-united again with their angels, oblivious of the fate that awaited them.
The flight was expected to depart Abuja at 11.00 a.m. but due to operational reasons, the plane departed at 3.00 p.m. with expected arrival at 4.00 p.m.
What made the death more painful was the fact that they saw the plane coming to land but the next thing was a big bang, as it disintegrated after hitting a huge culvert.
Immediately, the parents rushed to the scene of the accident.
There was virtually nothing to rescue at the scene.
At that stage, most of them became inconsolable. They saw their dreams vanish in flames before their eyes- a painful way to lose a child or ward. A culvert, which had no reason to be where it was near an airport runway was said to have exacerbated the crash, resulting in huge casualty, save for a lone survivor, Kechi Okwuchi who is still undergoing treatment in the United States.
At the airport, rescue operation was very poor as well as slow.
There was no water to douse the inferno and rescue efforts were rather incompetent at the time.
But as the anniversary approached, The Guardian visited the school to speak with, teachers, sibling and friends on how they have carried on since the tragedy in 2005. Their accounts brought back fond memories of each of the students; one that is very difficult to replace, considering the fact that those 60 Little Angles represented about four generations of potential leaders of Nigeria.
They were among the brightest of the lot as records showed how seriously they took their studies, coming tops in their academics.
According to Rev. Sister Ebele Onochie, Vice-Principal (Academics) of the Catholic School, “that set of students was the brightest”.
She five years after , she still finds it difficult to come to terms “that those wonderful , young people have gone forever.
“Their death is more painful when you realise that the crash happened inside the airport.
“The fire service at the airport did not function; they had no water. Many of them would not have died”, she said.
Onochie admitted that the period after the accident was most difficult for the college, stressing that many parents withdrew their wards from the school because of the phobia of flying.
She also added that most of the parents were still trying to get over the tragedy. Adanna Adaka who lost her brother, Kelechi, told The Guardian, she has developed a phobia for flying.
Recounting what happened on the day, she said: “I was in Primary 4 at Montessori International Primary School, Port-Harcourt.
“ I was at home and my dad went to the airport to pick him. Few hours after, he came home and went to his room to pray. My mummy was devastated by the news of the accident. The incident has made me to have phobia for flying”.
Nnenna Uba who lost her brother, Ifeanyi, she said she was at home eagerly waiting for his arrival when news broke that the plane he was returning in had crashed. She recalled that “Ifeanyi was very smart, friendly and kind.”
Olaolu Ajilore, an SS2 student whose elder brother, Olawole, was a victim, said: “We shared the same bedroom. My daddy went to pick him while my mother was at a wedding. It was a big tragedy for the family”.
Recounting his own ordeal, Onyema Nwigwe who is now in SS2, said he was at the airport with his parents to pick up his late elder sister, Chioma Sharon, who was then in SS1.
“I was at the airport. There was no light…It was raining and minutes later, we heard a big bang and everybody rushed to the direction of the loud noise. My dad saw the plane cut into two and he started crying”.
For Tobena Okafor, it was not a good experience he would love to remember. Tobena who is in SS2, lost two siblings: Zikora and Chidinma.
Babafikemi Bob-Soile, SS3, said it was a disaster that he prays to forget, noting that he was yet to come to terms that he lost five of his mates in one fell swoop. They are: Chidera Nnaji, Mayowa Oyebode, Sylva Irokanwa, Adaka Kelechi and Abba Kelechukwu.
Babafikemi stated that the shocking news hit him when he got home, stressing that at first it did not click that they were in the ill-fated plane until the manifest was published.
According to him: “Things would have turned out good for everybody, the school, their parents and friends. Their absence was felt when we resumed the following term, even in the hostel”.
One of their teachers, Mrs. Omotayo Smith, who teaches English Language was reluctant to speak as it would open a flood-gate of memories of what the teachers and parents were trying to forget. She however admitted that inasmuch as they would want to forget the sad occurrence, it would be difficult to do so, adding that the school lost about four generations of future leaders of Nigeria.
While she spoke, she intermittently gazed into space, shook her head and struggled unsuccessfully to fight back tears, which glistened behind her tinted glasses.
“When it happened, that was the first time I saw men cry so much; it was shocking.
“There was a young boy called Onyekachi Okereke.
“I remember Busomma Ilaboh. I try to imagine how tall she would have been if she had not died .
“I remember Toke Badru who died and I remember the sole survivor, Kechi.
“People say she is doing very well and I am glad about that . She was beautiful inside and out. The problem is not only in aviation. Sadly, we have lowered standards in all spheres of life in Nigeria such that now, anything goes.”
Story syndicated via The Guardian News Nigeria
Image via LJC