Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) — None of the 153 people on board a Nigerian airplane survived its crash Sunday into a residential neighborhood in the West African nation’s most populated city, a top emergency management official said.
Mohammed Sani Sidi, director general of Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency, described the scene as “devastation.”
While other structures were affected, the building hit most directly by the airliner was “totally destroyed,” Sidi said.
He added that it is “very difficult” to assess how many people on the ground were killed or injured, and no such figures have been released.
“The rescue operations are still ongoing,” Sidi said around 9:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. ET). “It is very challenging because of darkness.”
The Sunday afternoon crash set off fire and caused pandemonium, as hundreds congregated around the crash site, making it difficult for people to move — including rescue personnel.
The smell of jet fuel was evident in the air, yet that didn’t stop people from getting close to and in some cases on top of the mangled plane. Video from the scene showed people holding up what appeared to be a fire hose, as others clambered on the wreckage.
“There were so many people, you had to push through people to walk,” recalled Pearl Ezeokeke, who was at the scene.
The Dana Air flight from Abuja crashed into a building in Lagos, said Akande Iyiola, zone coordinator with the emergency management agency. The neighborhood was several miles from the city’s airport, according to Patrick Abbah of the same agency, though low-flying airliners could be seen flying above the accident site.
The crash triggered three house fires, said Labaran Ahmed, a rescue officer. The state-run Voice of Nigeria news organization reported that a manufacturing company, a block of six apartments and a church were affected.
And yet throngs flocked to the area despite the debris, fires and thick smoke.
“There was … so much (smoke) that, my eyes, I couldn’t see beyond where I was standing,” Ilori Olayide told CNN.
Femi Green-Adebo, who lives blocks away, described hearing a “loud explosion,” then running outside and seeing “smoke.”
‘It was so hot, we couldn’t get close,” he told CNN iReport. ‘I just kept thinking about the people, if there as anyone in there.’
While the emergency management director said around 6:15 p.m. that “the fire has been stopped now,” a CNN reporter on the scene about 45 minutes later could still see “orange flames.”
Amongst the crowd of civilians, witnesses reported seeing police, firefighters and security personnel. Abbah, from the national emergency management agency, said, “Everybody is present — it’s all hands on deck.”
The accident site was not cordoned off and, at least around 7 p.m., there appeared to be no large lights on-site to aid in the rescue efforts as the sun went down.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared three days of national mourning and ordered “the fullest possible investigation” after the crash.
A statement from his office noted that the incident came the same day that two church bombings in northern Nigeria killed at least 15 people and wounded 38 others, according to Red Cross spokesman Andronicus Adeyemo.
“President Jonathan assures air travelers in the country that every possible effort will be made to ensure that the right lessons are learned from the tragic loss of valuable lives in today’s plane crash and that further measures will be put in place to boost aviation safety,” the statement from Jonathan’s office said.
Airplane disasters are nothing new for Nigeria. The deadliest came in July 1991, when all 261 on board a Nigerian Airways airliner died after its landing gear caught fire shortly after takeoff in Saudi Arabia en route to Nigeria, and the plane went down. About 225 people were killed in two crashes that occurred within two months of each other in late 2005.
And on Saturday, a Boeing 727 cargo plane operated by Nigerian-based Allied Air took off from Lagos and landed at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana. But it didn’t stop on the runway, barreling through a fence and onto a street, where it hit a passenger bus and killed 10 people, officials said. Ghana Aviation Authority sources said they suspect brake failure may have contributed to that crash.
Dana Air, the airline behind the flight involved in the next day’s crash, began operations in November 2008. The company has since become “one of Nigeria’s leading airlines,” according to its website.
While no specifics have been released about the plane that crashed, Dana Air said its fleet consists of Boeing MD-83 aircraft. Boeing’s website notes that such planes can carry between 155 and 172 passengers, cover up to 2,504 nautical miles and have a fuel capacity of 7,000 gallons.