Nigeria's Heartland mark 25 years since Algeria crash

Author: BBC Sport
Eghomwanre Aimanmwosa, and Uche Ikeogu were among five people who died in a plane crash in Algeria in 1994 (Photo courtesy of Heartland FC)

A service to mark 25 years since an air crash in Algeria which killed five people, including two Heartland players, has taken place in south-eastern Nigeria.

The crash in stormy weather at the Aéroport de Tamanrasset, Aguenar in southern Algeria, on September 18, 1994, happened on Heartland's (formerly known as Iwuanyanwu Nationale) return from an African Cup of Champions (now Champions League) tie in Tunisia.

Midfielder Eghomwanre Aimanmwosa, goalkeeper Uche Ikeogu, two pilots and a crew member were killed, while another 21 people were badly injured.

Crash survivors, former and current players attended the memorial service in Owerri

Former Nigerian captain Christian Chukwu was one of the 30 people who survived the crash.

Chukwu had been seconded to the team by the then Nigeria Football Association to help the club's coach Alphonsus Dike, who also survived and went on to coach Enyimba and Nigeria's under-17 team.

Other survivors included former National Sports Commission director Steve Olarinoye, Bola Oyeyode of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and Amanze Uchegbulam a former NFF first vice president.

"I must think it was a divine intervention because I sat in the middle of the plane when we took off," Oyeyode told BBC Sport.

"Later I switch seats and moved forward where I slept off. I think that's what saved me because the plane divided right in the middle after the crash."

The five-time Nigerian champions recounted the events that led up to the crash on social media.

"Then Nigerian champions, Iwuanyanwu Nationale, were returning from Tunisia, where they had lost 3-0 to Esperance in the first leg of the quarterfinals of the continental club showpiece," the club wrote,

"Defeated and deflated, the 35 players, officials and journalists were obviously in low spirit. Beyond the defeat and the thought of the herculean task ahead, the contingent had to contend with a three-hour delay at the Tunis Airport.

"When the chartered BAC 1-11 of the Oriental Airlines, owned by the club proprietor, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, eventually took off, it had to contend with early morning fog of the Sahara Desert region.

"So bad was the situation that the plane had to make an emergency landing at Agenat Airport, Tamanrasset in Algerian Southern border with Niger Republic.

"In doing so, it crashed into a pole, then a lorry, and finally into a fire station building. The aircraft had circled in the airspace for almost three hours. After a mighty explosion, the aircraft came to a halt.

"From the base of the badly mangled aircraft came 30 passengers alive. A Miracle!"

Regarded as one of the most successful clubs in the West African nation, Heartland have five Nigerian league titles, including four straight victories from 1987 to 1990 and three FA Cup titles.

They were losing finalists of the African Champions League in 1988 and 2009.