25 years after surviving a plane crash with members of Iwuanyanwu Nationale Football Club (now Heartland), Coach Alphonsus Dike has described the experience sorrowful, Completesports.com reports.
The incident occurred at Tamaransett, Southern Algeria with the squad on their way back home from a CAF Champions League clash away to Esperance of Tunisia in a chattered Oriental Airline flight owned by Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, who also owned the football club at the time.
The Nigerian champions at the time lost the tie in Tunis 3-0.
Dike, who was the head coach of the Naze Millionaires narrates to Completesports.com how the crash happened and what could have caused it as the management of Heartland hold a remembrance candle procession today (Wednesday) in honour of those who lost their lives in the crash.
“It was really a nasty one, very sorrowful, Dike starts.
“I cannot say whether it was destined to happen or not, but events that took place before the crash were unexplainable.
“We arrived Tunisia in a chattered Oriental Airline flight. The plane was also owned by the proprietor of our club, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu.
“We were to leave immediately after the match but the Tunisian airport authorities delayed our departure by demanding payment of their fees in dollars.
“Tunisia airport staff had no justifiable reason to keep us for that length of time demanding for their fees in raw dollars even when the pilot had paid the fees with traveller’s cheque.
“After wasting all those hours depriving us of buying aviation fuel because they (aviation fuel sellers) had closed, they (airport staff) eventually ended up collecting the same cheque they initially rejected.
“This made the pilot to try and refuel in Algeria airport (which was the closest airport) on our way back home.
“There, (at the Algerian Airport), the man on the control tower refused to permit our aircraft from landing by denying our pilot signals, hence the crash.
“I think it was sheer wickedness on the part of the Algerian officials,”Dike fumed with emotional outburst.
25 years on, Dike says he still entertains a mixed feelings of shock and joy each time the events of that illfated September 18, 1994 flashed through his mind.
“Yes, I do have a mixed feelings of shock and joy whenever I remember that incident,” he said.
“Shock feeling in the sense that l could have been dead long ago.
“And a feeling of joy in the sense that the good Lord was merciful to us and we should be grateful to Him for that.”
Iwuanyanwu Nationale had won the 1993 Nigeria Professional League to earn the bragging right to fly Nigeria’s flag in the 1994 CAF Champions League.
It was a tortuous road to victory as a ‘shock’ 2-0 win at El-kanemi Warriors on the final day of the season eclipsed Insurance’s 5-0 whitewashing of Rangers same day in Benin.
That win made it the fifth time Iwuanyanwu Nationale, (now Heartland) has lifted the domestic top flight silverware.
Till now, the club has yet to lift the league diadem again and Dike expresses surprise over the odd record.
“It is really surprising that it was the last time the club won the Premier League.”
I do know that I had a lot of quality and dedicated players then like Captain Mike obi, Uche Okechukwu, Ransom Madu, Kanu Nwankwo, Collins Amadi, Johnson Ibe, Mba Agbai, Oparanozie Sylvester, Mobi Oparaku, Obinna Obiaka, Tony Nwaigwe, Sunday Ebougbe and many others who are part of this anniversary.
“I wish we could have such quality players now. This anniversary is a welcome development.”
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