By: Solomon Onu
On this day 29 years ago, at exactly 7:45 am, the dark clouds gathered, a “Big Bang ” a moment of confusion, shouts, screams, and people moaning In pain from the Heartland plane crash.
The saddest day in the history of Heartland Football Club came calling.
Today a fire brigade alarm will sound at 7:45 am to mark the events of that tragic day of sorrow and pains in a symbolic gesture of paying tribute to the five victims of the Oriental Airline that crashed into a fire brigade building at the Agenat Airport Tamanrasset Algeria.
The ill-fated flight of September 18, 1994, had players and officials of the then Iwuanyanwu Nationale (now Heartland of Owerri) who were in a quest for continental honors.
A year before, the Zambian National team perished in similar circumstances but the case of the Iwuanyanwu Nationale players was different as many miraculously survived the crash.
Sports historians believe that the sad event of 18th September became the eighth notable football squad involved in an air disaster.
History Of Air Crash For Football Teams
Going down Memory Lane, of Air Mishaps involving Football teams will definitely exhume the memories of crashes involving:
- The Zambian national team in 1993.
- Peruvian champions Alianza Lima in 1988.
- Soviet’s Pakhtakor Tashkent club in 1979.
- The Strongest FC of Bolivia in 1969.
- Chile’s Green Cross in 1961.
- England’s Manchester United in 1958.
- Italy’s Torino in 1949 came flooding back.
Heartland Plane Crash: A Miracle and Death in One Crash
The 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 African Cup of Champions (now CAF Champions League).
Defeated and deflated, the 35 players, officials, and journalists were obviously in low spirits.
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 the 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 the 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.
Surprisingly, from the base of the badly mangled aircraft came 30 passengers alive.
Some were seriously wounded. But five, among them, two players, died.
Heartland Plane Crash: The Dead, Survivors, And The Injured
The dead players were midfielder, Eghomwanre ‘Omale’ Aimanmwosa, and goalkeeper Uche Ikeogu.
Also dead were the pilot who was identified as Captain Amaechi; the co-pilot, Captain Chinedu Ogbonna and an air steward, Obiageli Ezeh.
Badly injured were Okon Ating and 20 others. Among the lucky survivors are former Nigerian skipper, Christian Chukwu, former National Sports Commission director, Steve Olarinoye Bola Oyeyode of the Nigeria Football Federation, and Chief Amanze Uchegbulam former NFF 1st Vice President.
The dead Eghomwanre ‘Omale’ Aimanmwosa was said to be asleep when the aircraft crashed into the fire station building of the airport.
He was spread across three seats of the aircraft and got trapped as part of the fire station building collapsed on him.
He had joined the club after a brief spell at Bendel Insurance and Lagos Julius Berger.
Uche Ikeogu was a reserve goalkeeper in the 1985 Flying Eagles squad and joined Iwuanyanwu in the l980s before transferring to Plateau United and later Rangers. He returned to the Iwuanyanwu fold at the start of the 1994 season.
He was planning a trip to the US to see his Heartthrob, but that never happened.
A Crash And A 3-0 Mountain In the Return Leg
The toll left the club seriously handicapped for its return leg of the Cup Championship.
Despite a two-week postponement granted by the CAF at the instance of the Nigerian club, Iwuanyanwu Nationale could not survive the arduous task of overturning a three-goal deficit.
They struggled to a 1-1 draw.
To date, the club has been unable to win another league title since the crash. Five-time league champions, the club won her last league title the Year before the crash, with “Prof” Alphonsus Dike at the helm in 1993.
Furthermore, September 18, 1994, left a huge scar and an indelible mark in our annals.
May the Soul of the departed Heartland Plane Crash continue to rest in Peace.