Nigerian Aviation Officials Questoins whether Aircraft Downed by Terrorists

Senior Nigerian aviation officials are now hinting that the Abuja-bound jetliner that crashed last month a few minutes after take-off may have exploded in midair.

The Bellview airline flight 210, a Boeing 737-200 from Lagos airport, came down Oct. 22, killing 117 passengers and crew.

The Nigerian Daily Champion newspaper quoted Aviation Minister Prof. Babalola Borishade as theorizing that the loss of contact between the terminal crew and the pilot may have been caused by an explosion that destroyed the plane's avionics.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has directed his government to request assistance from Boeing, the International Civil Aviation Organization and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. The aircraft's black box has been recovered, said the paper.

According to counter-terrorism expert Douglas Farah, the United States has asked to assist Nigeria in the crash investigation.

Besides a number of prominent Nigerians, crash victims include U.S Special Forces Maj. Joe Haydon and several senior security officials from the 15-member Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, Farah said.

Haydon was arriving in Nigeria to take charge of the Pentagon's office of Defense Cooperation there.

Police and other investigators have not ruled out the possibility that the plane was destroyed by sabotage given the number of foreigners and senior ECOWAS people aboard.