Lufthansa Flight LH566 from Frankfurt that was destined to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) Lagos as direct flight was on Friday diverted to Cotonou, Togo and later to Malabo, Capital of Equatorial Guinea by the pilot who lied to the passengers that the Lagos airport was closed.
The flight with over 200 passengers and about only 15 passengers destined to Malabo was scheduled to arrive Lagos by 5:45 pm on March 3, 2023 before flying to Equatorial Guinea capital, but later arrived Lagos at 2:00 am on March 4, 2023.
THISDAY investigations revealed that the Lagos airport was not closed at any time on March 3, and there was no indication that any other airline coming to Lagos diverted flight to any other airport whether within Nigeria or outside the country.
THISDAY enquired from the General Manager, Public Affairs, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mrs. Faithful Hope-Ivbaze, whether the Lagos airport was closed at any time on March 3, 2023 and she responded, “There was never a day/time that MMA was closed. I will let you know if there will be any closure in the coming days.”
Anytime any airport is closed the information is circulated to the world through Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), which is managed by the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), so THISDAY spoke to insiders in the agency and the NOTAM desk also confirmed that the airport was not closed at any time on March 3, 2023.
Eyewitness account narrated passengers’ experience in the Lufthansa Flight LH568.
“They left Frankfurt yesterday (March 2, 2023) by 12 noon to Lagos and Malabo in Equatorial Guinea. This flight was supposed to be at Lagos by 5.45pm. On getting to Lagos, the pilot told the passengers that they couldn’t land because the Lagos airport was closed.
“He took them to Contonou airport and landed waiting for Lagos airport to open, according to the pilot. They were there for almost three hours, during this time, relatives waiting for the flight were panicking. Then individuals were now making calls to relatives asking what was happening in the Lagos airport.
“It was then passengers knew that Lagos airport was not closed. They now demanded that the pilot should take them to Lagos. After much argument, the pilot told them, he was taking them to Malabo, to drop the 15 passengers before coming back to Lagos to drop over 200 passengers.
“This was what the pilot did. They now landed at 2: 00 am. When the passengers said they wouldn’t come down on arrival at Lagos without the airline making a proper arrangement for them, the pilot threatened them and said he would call the police to evacuate the passengers.”
Because of the diversion of the flight the return flight from Lagos to Frankfurt was delayed and so Lufthansa management issued a notice to the Frankfurt- bound passengers from Lagos. The circular dated March 3, 2023, stated, “Dear Lufthansa guest, Unfortunately, your flight LH569/3 March from Lagos to Frankfurt is delayed due to operational reason. The incoming aircraft has been diverted and to land in Cotonou (Benin) and then to Malabo (Equatorial Guinea) before reaching Lagos destination.
“Lufthansa would like to sincerely apologise for this delay and any inconvenience it may have caused to your journey. We have now planned an arrival of the aircraft in Lagos around 01:15 (it arrived 2:00 am) and we would do our best to manage quick turnaround.”
Many industry stakeholders were aghast about the pilot’s claim that the airport was closed. It prompted some stakeholders to suggest that the airport might have been closed without proper notification but conceded that if it were so it would not be only Lufthansa that would be affected.
Airlines that arrive between 4:00 to 7:00 to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport everyday include Lufthansa, KLM, Air France, British Airways and others.
But further investigation carried out by THISDAY revealed that Flightradar24 Live Flight Tracker showed that the Lufthansa flight circled around Lagos/Benin Republic airspace before it landed in Cotonou.
THISDAY spoke to Head of Business Development, Zenith Travels and the spokesman of Aviation Round Table (ART), Olu Ohunayo, who monitored the incident.
He said, “For me personally, I want to think that the pilot must have taken a safety precaution, according to the SOP (standard operating procedure) of Lufthansa. Because an airline cannot takeoff from Frankfurt and deliberately go and land in Cotonou, putting extra cost on the airline and adding extra working hours to the crew and inconveniencing its passengers.”