Bayoor Ewuoso’s experience aboard Arik Air flight W3 103 Y Lagos to Johannesburg on October 31, 2014, exposes the reality and danger of flying with airlines which compromise on basic safety requirements.
About an hour before arriving Johannesburg, Mr. Ewuoso said he requested a cup of coffee, which an Arik flight attendant mistakenly spilled on his thighs. His pains turned to disbelief and shock when the attendant told him there was no first aid kit on board the plane and that he should go to the toilet and pour cold water on the spot.
“I was shocked, I felt very bad when he told me there was no first aid kit on board. I just thought to myself, if this was something else, probably, I would even die under Arik’s watch,” Mr. Ewuoso said.
In the toilet, Mr. Ewuoso noticed he had serious burns on both thighs. He splashed cold water on himself and returned to his seat. Not even the slight relief felt from applying Vaseline jelly given to him by a female passenger seated behind him was able to reduce the pain he felt on the flight to South Africa, Mr. Ewuoso said.
On arrival at Johannesburg, Mr. Ewuoso said Arik Air abandoned him to his plight without making any arrangement for him to get proper medical attention. By the time he checked into his hotel, he discovered the burn had become a wound. He consulted a pharmacist who gave him a syrup and some pain killers.
Mr. Ewuoso, a multiple award winning photojournalist, was in South Africa to attend an Investigative Journalism conference at the University of Witwatersrand. The few times he ventured out in public during his seven-day stay in Johannesburg saw him being ridiculed because of the way he walked. Mr. Ewuoso was in constant pain and discomfort.
Aderonke Ogunleye, a PREMIUM TIMES reporter present at the journalism conference, said people felt pity for Mr. Ewuoso. “He didn’t even look like he paid attention at the conference. Seeing Bayoor like that was terrible,” Ms. Ogunleye said.
Mr. Ewuoso sent an email to Arik Air on November 8 complaining of his predicament. The airline did not reply until after two weeks when an Arik official called him on his mobile telephone to enquire what Mr. Ewuoso wanted the airline to do about the issue. By this time the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) had taken the responsibility of handling the matter, Mr. Ewuoso replied the official.
Arik which boasts of “efficiency, customer-commitment, adherence to aviation polices and standards and an avant-garde in providing quality aviation services” flies to South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, the United Arab Emirates, Benin Republic, Ghana, Senegal, Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cameroun and Angola.
Mr. Ewuoso’s ordeal presupposes that the over 10 million Arik air passengers flying within Nigeria and the airline’s 12 international destinations are flying at grave personal risks.
Arik denies responsibility
Ola Adebanji, Arik’s spokesperson, in response to PREMIUM TIMES enquiry, said Mr. Ewuoso was the one who spilled the hot coffee on himself and not the flight attendant. He said that all of the airline’s planes are equipped with first aid boxes but that Mr. Ewuoso did not request for first aid treatment.
“The crew member offered the passenger Vaseline ointment which was declined. The passenger was also asked to go to the toilet to check the extent of the burns which he did and said he was okay,” Mr. Adebanji said. “The crew checked on the passenger several times to know how he was doing and at no time did the passenger raise an alarm about burns,” Mr. Adebanji added.
Mr. Ewuoso refutes Arik’s claims. He said he intends to seek redress for the airline’s unprofessional conduct.
“Am I a kid that something like this will happen and I’ll not request for any treatment? I showed the attendant the burns and all he said was sorry,” Mr Ewuoso said. “It was the attendant who poured the coffee on me. But even if I was the one, does it mean they cannot provide first aid?”
Dr. Tuyi Mebawondu-Olowu, an international health expert and medical doctor with over 20 years experience, told PREMIUM TIMES that the treatment for burns sustained from hot liquids should involve cooling the burn under water, followed by the application of an anti-burn ointment and analgesic to relieve the pain.
The airline should have also ensured Mr. Ewuoso got proper medical attention after the plane landed, Dr. Mebawondu-Olowu said.
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES, the coordinator of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, Motunrayo Alaka, said bringing Mr. Ewuoso’s plight to public knowledge was not to vilify Arik but to ensure airlines and aviation authorities live up to their responsibility in ensuring safety for air travellers.
“For the grade of burns caused by their staff, or even if it was caused by the passenger himself, we are concerned because Bayoor said he had complained on board but that they did not even have a first aid kit,” Ms. Alaka said.
Yakubu Datti, Aviation spokesman, told PREMIUM TIMES that the standard aviation operational practice is for every aircraft to have a first aid kit with crew members upon employment expected to be trained to handle emergencies.
The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority is the government regulatory body which oversees the aviation industry, including the activities of airlines and their personnel.
NCAA rules spell out that crew members must have knowledge of emergency and first aid equipment and drills. The Authority further mandates airlines to submit a report to it within three days of any accident that occurs on a flight.
Fan Nduboke, NCAA spokesperson, told PREMIUM TIMES that there is no record of Mr. Ewuoso’s incident aboard Arik Air flight W3 103 Y Lagos to Johannesburg. He said an official complaint first needs to be lodged to enable the NCAA launch an investigation before any airline operator can be sanctioned for any wrongful act.
Okechukwu Ukandu, an aviation safety consultant who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES, said Mr. Ewuoso’s story underscores the need for Nigerian aviation authorities to ensure airlines and their personnel strictly abide by aviation rules to avoid similar or worse occurrences in the future.
“This kind of act is a safety breach, it’s a breach of aviation safety protocols and the cabin crew are supposed to be able to administer first aid treatment; it is part of their training. I mean, that’s very wrong, he’s expected to sue them,” Mr. Ukandu said.