As It Happens

'All of a sudden — poof!': Passenger describes moment emergency door snaps off Nigerian plane

A passenger on a domestic flight from Lagos, Nigeria to Abuja describes the moment the emergency exit door fell off.
Dapo Sanwo took this photo after his Dana Air flight from Lagos to Abuja touched down and the plane's emergency exit door fell off. (Dapo Sanwo/Twitter)
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Story transcript

Air travel can be a pain. When the plane lands, you just wanna hop out the emergency exit and breathe some fresh air. What you don't want is for the emergency exit door to pop open on it's own — while the plane is still moving. 

But on Wednesday, that's exactly what happened on a Dana Air flight from Lagos, Nigeria to Abuja.

Dapo Sanwo was on that flight. He is back in Lagos now and spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about his ordeal.

​Dapo, when did you first start to notice that something might be wrong with the emergency exit on your plane?

Okay, so we were at 29,000 feet. We'd got in to Abuja so we were descending to the airport, to the runway, when we noticed the latch. During the flight, it didn't look too bad. It was at three o'clock. It was horizontal, straight, and then when we had started descending that's when we noticed that the latch suddenly became a bit freer. Then it moved towards a five o'clock angle. So we all started pointing to each other  — "Can you see that? Can you see that?" 
On Wednesday, Dapo Sanwo took a domestic flight from Lagos, Nigeria to Abuja. When the Dana Airlines plane he was on landed the emergency exit door fell off. (Submitted by Dapo Sanwo)

How were people responding when they could see this loose emergency door handle?

I mean, just a little chatter. We just thought maybe it was loose fitting and probably an old plane. Nobody took it too seriously, you know. But we were trying to get the attention of the cabin crew or somebody to just come take a look at that but the pilot had put on the fasten seatbelt sign so everybody was pretty much latched on.

And so at what point did things get even more serious? When did the door actually open?

What had happened was we had landed. As we were taxiing, nobody was really paying attention. And then, all of sudden, we heard a poof! You just realize — oh my goodness! Did this door just really bust open right now? It was hysterical. It was scary and it wasn't very pleasant.

I think for the first 15 seconds, 20 seconds, we were all super worried. Then we now start wondering was this door actually lose all flight long? Were we at 29,000 feet with with a faulty door? I mean, there were so many questions we started asking. 
Dana Airline claim that the emergency exit door came off because a passenger tampered with it. (Sunday Alamba/Associated Press)

Did you think about what might have happened if that door had popped open when you were up in the air?

Man, I don't want to imagine. There are so many scenarios. Of course, a lot of engineers have come to say to us that it was a pressurized cabin. That it's very difficult for it to come open mid flight. But in any case, it would have been disastrous. You would have lost cabin pressure. Oxygen would have gone out because we are at 29,000 feet. Everybody would be breathing through gas masks. I mean, it now comes down to the skill of the pilot to bring down the plane. There's so many challenges. What if the engine starts to feel the pressure of the excess air inside the cabin? What if the plane bursts open or breaks, or worse, even explodes?

And this is not the first time a Dana plane has gone belly up in the sky. A couple of years back, Dana Airlines, this particular air operator, had a plane that blew up in the middle of the sky and everybody died. It was terrible. It was the worst aviation crisis of the time. 
People gather near the engine of a Dana Air plane after it crashed into a neighbourhood in Ishaga district, an outskirt of Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos on June 3, 2012. (Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters)

That was a very infamous incident. Everyone was killed on the plane, which was about the same sized one that you were on. And once you were on the ground, how did the flight crew respond to this?

That's the thing that got us really upset. When we shared our experience on our personal social media feed, we were not really even going out to try to insult or drag the company. Even on the flight they were like, "Take off your phones. Don't take pictures. Don't take videos. Don't record. Just calm down." And we were like, "Are you trying to cover this up?" 

They said a passenger must have opened the door. They must have tampered with it. That was the explanation. They wouldn't take responsibility for it.

Yes, that's what they said and that was ridiculous. I know in some other places that would be totally unacceptable but in Nigeria it seems like they are going to get away with it. In any case, it is absolutely disappointing and I'm sure the investigation will show that.

This interview transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Dapo Sanwo.

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