The pilot was said to have hovered over the airport for about 30 minutes hoping that power would be restored, but, when it became obvious that he was wrong and the runway was dark, he decided to return to Abuja.
It was gathered that the officer with the keys to the generator house was no-where to be found.
Responding, FAAN’s Head of Communications, Yakubu Datti, said the airport was not under the agency (FAAN). “The agency has no business with whatever goes on at the Akwa Ibom airport,”Datti said.
Spokesman for Arik Air, Mr Banji Ola, confirmed the airline flight did make air return to Abuja due to power failure at the Akwa Ibom airport.
Akwa Ibom State government said, last night, there was “a slight technical problem with the airport’s lighting system”, but added that it was “rectified shortly afterward”.
‘Thank God we survived’
Flight W3 533 passengers were reportedly full of praises to God for saving their lives as their plane returned to the nation’s capital.
On the flight, according to a report, were about 50 passengers, including the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, and some unnamed federal lawmakers, believed to be heading to Uyo for a retreat.
The report quoted Odinkalu as saying, “Thank God we survived. If it had been a rainy night with thunderstorm, anything could have happened to us. Some people need to answer questions over that incident.”
The flight, originally scheduled for 6:25 p.m, left Abuja at about 7 p:m. It returned to Abuja at 9: 35 p.m. after hovering in the sky for over 30 minutes in expectation that authorities at the Uyo airport would be able to light the runway to enable it to land.
Some passengers on the flight said the plane was only 500 metres from the tarmac in Uyo when the airport suddenly blacked out.
“As he re-engaged the engines to go up, the pilot informed us that the control tower had told him there was a power outage at the airport,” a passenger on the flight said. “So they needed a little time to switch to alternative source. So we were told.
“Meanwhile, the aircraft was in a holding pattern over Uyo. So we flew around and waited. After about 15 minutes, the pilot explained that the man responsible for turning on the back up power unit was about 10-15 minutes from the airport and had been reached. So he was on his way back to switch it on. So we kept holding.”
The passenger said after another 15 or so minutes, the American pilot announced that the control tower had informed him that the man expected to switch on the generator had arrived and that power would be restored to the airport in 10 minutes. So the plane held on, hovering in the sky.
But fifteen minutes later, the pilot again informed passengers that even though the technician to switch on the generator had arrived, the airport authorities were unable to locate the keys to the source of the alternative power unit.
Officials didn’t say who took the keys away and at what point they realized the keys were missing.
They however advised the pilot to return to Abuja.
‘Lighting technical problem’
A statement by Akwa Ibom State government said, “On the reported lighting issue at Akwa Ibom Airport, there is no cause for alarm. There was slight technical problem noticed with the lighting system which was rectified shortly afterward. The control tower was in communication with the pilot who decided on air return in the interest of safety.
“We wish to state that the lighting system was immediately restored and all scheduled and unscheduled flights are landing and taking off from Ibom Airport. Air return is not a new thing in the industry. Safety of lives is the most important issue. Meanwhile government has directed full investigation into the matter.”