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Nigeria Airways and the VC10

To go back to 'Incidents and Accidents', click here, to return to the 'Other Operators' page select this link.

Nigeria Airways ordered two Standard VC10s in early 1961. Designated type 1104, they were to have been delivered at the same time that Ghana Airways received its VC10s. The order, however, was cancelled as the airline realised that it could not afford them, but once BOAC VC10s were in service between Lagos, Kano and London, Nigeria Airways realised the popularity of the aircraft and, from January 1966 to July 1967, they leased G-ARVC from BOAC. Then on 29th June 1969, they bought G-ARVA from BOAC and registered it as 5N-ABD. G-ARVA was the first production VC10 and the first to go into service with BOAC.

Nigerian VC10 crews were trained by BOAC and used its simulators at Heathrow. The routes were from Lagos to London via Kano, Barcelona and Rome and during the leasing days the crews were drawn from both Nigeria Airways and BOAC. A BOAC Captain would take command with a Nigerian Captain second in command. BOAC often provided the Chief Steward and the cabin staff were Nigerian.

Incident at Lagos

On 30 July 1968 BOAC VC10 G-ARVL departed from Heathrow at 21:50 for Lagos via Rome and Kano under the command of Captain C J Gray with Captain Rufus Orimoloye as Command Under Supervision. The VC10 was operating West African service WT923 and proceeded without incident, arriving in Kano at 05:07 on 31st July. For the final Kano-Lagos sector the arrival weather forecast predicted squall lines - characteristic thunderstorms which affect the West African coast during the rainy season. Orimoloye elected to proceed to Lagos on a 'look see' basis and nominated Kano as the return alternative. After descending to within operational limits on an approach to Runway 19, visibility was poor so the flight returned to Kano.

Consideration was given to terminating the flight at Kano but it was reported that the weather conditions at Lagos had improved so a further attempt was made to land there. By the time the plane began its second approach, conditions worsened. The aircraft circled for a while, then Captain Orimoloye decided to make an approach from the coast and ran inland using VOR and DME. At a late stage, the runway was sighted and the aircraft was placed to make a landing. The airfield, however, was awash with heavy rain and the crew decided to make a further go-around. At this point Number 3 engine started to run rough and had to be shut down. A diversion to Accra was decided upon as it had better maintenance facilities and the availability of a spare engine. During the short flight to Accra, Lagos ATC called the VC10 to report that a Comet of East African Airways had just landed at Lagos and aquaplaned off the end of the runway, coming to rest in deep mud just short of the boundary. The two Captains looked at each other with gratification.

G-ARVL landed at Accra at 12:10 where the flight was terminated. As the crew were about to leave, the Engineer called them back to the tarmac to inspect the failed engine which had been fitted with experimental carbon fibre compressor blades; the basis for the new Rolls-Royce RB211 engine. To the crew's astonishment, the compressor blades had been shredded and were hanging in tatters. It was concluded that they had been damaged by exposure to heavy tropical rain. On returning to London, Gray reported that Orimoloye had passed with flying colours and was cleared to operate in command of the VC10. He also added that if he had shares in Rolls-Royce, he would sell them at once.

The Crash of 5N-ABD

5N-ABD had only been in service with Nigeria Airways for 3 months when it became the first VC10 to be written off. A fourteen page accident investigation report into the crash north of Lagos at 7:30am on 20 November 1969 left the precise cause a mystery. It assumed that the pilot had allowed his aircraft to come below a safe height when not in visual contact with the ground. The aircraft plunged into palm trees eight and a half miles from touch down, killing all 76 passengers and 11 crew.

The Captain was Val Moore, aged 56. He had joined Nigeria Airways one month before the crash and had flown 15,173 hours of which 3,323 were in command of VC10s. His last rating had been carried out on 15 May that year when he was assessed as 'unorthodox but competent'. Following another check in September, the Check Captain found Moore to be 'unorthodox and individualistic in some aspects of his flying.'

Moore was a South African who had joined the RAF and served with Bomber Command during the war (actually, Moore was a New Zealander, see below). He joined BOAC towards the end of the War and flew Haltons, Yorks, Hermes, Argonauts, Comet IVs and VC10s.

First Officer John Wallis, aged 30, joined Nigeria Airways a few days before the accident. He came from EAA, with whose VC10 fleet he had flown for two and a half years. He had flown 3,500 hours of which 900 had been on VC10s. He had 175 hours as Pilot in Command Under Supervision and had been assessed as 'diligent and competent'. Engineer George Albert Baker, aged 50, was on secondment to Nigeria Airways from BUA and Navigator Basil Payton, 49, was also on secondment from BUA.

Since joining Nigeria Airways, Moore had made five flights to Lagos, though he also had extensive BOAC experience of the region. It was known that he had developed a technique for making approaches to Lagos using auto-pilot coupled to the VOR and with the auto-throttle engaged.

The aircraft, operating flight WT925, left London at 22:10 on 19 November. The same crew were to take the plane the whole way, with stops in Rome and Kano. At Kano, Moore expressed concern about civil disturbances that had occurred close to Lagos Airport the previous day and decided to take on an extra 30,000 kgs of fuel to allow for a return to Kano if necessary. The estimated flying time to Lagos was 66 minutes and the aircraft took off at 06:24. At 07:05 contact was made with Lagos giving ETA as 07:28. Descent clearance from 35,000 feet was requested for 07:11; the flight was cleared down to 14,000 because of a northbound F27 at 13,000. The 07:00 Lagos weather report gave a visibility of 5km in mist at 1000 feet.

Shortly before 07:18 the F27 sighted the VC10 at around 17,000. Having been informed by the F27 crew that they had passed the VC10, ATC cleared the VC10 to 5,000. A short while later, Lagos received a request from the VC10 for a straight-in approach to Runway 19. The request was approved and the aircraft was instructed to report back when established on the radial and reaching 2,200. At 07:29 the VC10 reported back and was asked to request reclearance when at 8 miles.

At 07:30 the aircraft was called by Lagos for a check on its range from the threshold as it was hoped that there'd be time for a DC9 to take off first. There was no reply to this or any subsequent transmission. At 07:35 the Lagos tower alerted the search and rescue services. The DC9, which had been delayed until 07:43, was requested to search the area north of the airfield but nothing could be seen due to extensive cloud in the area. At 08:05 two Nigerian Air Force planes took off and soon sighted smoke through the clouds. At 09:12 search and rescue parties were dispatched to the site where it was found that the VC10 had been destroyed and all aboard had perished.

The plane was making a straight-in approach over low-lying tree-covered terrain when it crashed. An examination of the wreckage indicated that when it hit the trees the aircraft was descending with its gear down and flaps partially extended. The aircraft was structurally complete and the engines had been developing power. No evidence was found of any precrash mechanical failure or technical defect, nor was there any sign of a pre-crash fire. The indications were that the crew had most probably just begun the landing checks when the accident occurred. The weather in the accident area was foggy although the airfield was clear. The thick fog started one mile north of the airfield and extended beyond the accident site for many miles from tree-top height to not less than 1000 feet. Search planes found that visual flight beneath the fog layer was impossible. One plane reported that the fog layer may have been as high as 2,000 to 2,500 with poor visibility up to 5,000.

The VC10 first struck the top of a tree at 207 feet above sea level. The impact was taken by the No 2 & 3 port flaps, the port undercarriage and the cooling drain beneath 1&2 engines. 350 feet further on, the port wing was ripped off. The plane then collided with three other trees within the next 250 feet, removing the No 2,3 & 4 starboard flaps and the No 4 port flap. The aircraft finally struck the ground in a pronounced nose-up, left wing down attitude 1,700 feet beyond the first impact point.

The force of the impact broke off the whole tail and the four engines. The remainder of the plane came to rest 300 feet further on. The flight deck was crushed in the latter stages by collision with trees. The cabin remained relatively intact but both wings were severely damaged and all the fuel in the tanks was released. The overall length of the wreckage trail was 2,025 feet. Fire consumed the main part of the aircraft, including the flight deck, which was completely destroyed. The tail assembly remained relatively intact, though it was badly scorched.

The configuration of the aircraft was: gear down, flaps to 35 degree approach setting, tailplane set to 6.7 degree nose up, leading edge slats out, spoilers in. Injuries sustained were not fatal in every case but fire caused death by asphyxiation to those who survived the impact. Inaccessibility of the site precluded rescue and the accident, therefore, was classified as non-survivable.

Three automatic weapons found in the wreckage were examined by a ballistics expert. None of them had been recently fired, countering an rumour that a fight on the flight deck between two guards and a prisoner had ended in gun play. The presence on the weapons in the forward part of the plane indicated that, in accordance with regulations, they had been handed over to the Commander prior to take-off from Kano. As the accident occurred during the Biafran War, rumours began to circulate that the plane had been carrying arms - these were also found to be false.

At the time of impact, the aircraft was descending at 1800 feet per minute. Having set the flaps to 35 degrees the pilot had decided to make a fairly speedy descent in order to establish visual contact with the ground as soon as possible. Moore may have assumed that the cloud base in the area over which he was flying was 1000 feet, as it was at the airfield. As the landing checks were in progress, it is likely that all on the flight deck were engaged in performing their respective landing drills. In such a scenario, only the Commander would have been directly concerned with flying the aircraft. If he had been expecting to break out below cloud at any time, his attention on the flight instruments could have been frequently interrupted by his attempts to make visual contact with the ground.

It remains hard to accept that a crew whose collective experience exceeded 45,000 flying hours could have made such a basic mistake. As there was no other traffic in the area, their concentration may have been more relaxed than in a busy control area. In addition, they were coming to the end of a long three-sector overnight flight, and short-term fatigue may have been a contributory factor.

G-ARVA had entered service with BOAC in November 1964, where it remained until September 1969. It had been serviced regularly and, at the time of the accident, had flown 18,431 hours. No flight deck recorder was fitted, an oversight that was addressed by airlines in the wake of the crash, together with the introduction of GPWS.

Source: pages 88-93 of Silent Swift Superb: The Story of the Vickers VC10 by Scott Henderson (SCOVAL, 1998)

With thanks to Mark Hubbard who included the text in electronic form in his Nigeria Airways VC10 package for Microsoft Flight Simulator 98, which can be downloaded here.

Henderson's book lists Valentine Stuart Moore as a South African, but he was a New Zealander who flew in WWII for 57 Sqn, 83 Sqn and 692 Sqn, acquiring a DFM, DSO and DFC during at least 120 missions on Wellingtons, Lancasters and Mosquitos.

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