Bodies of 74 South Africans killed in Nigeria church collapse flown home
A cargo plane carrying the remains of 74 South Africans killed in a building collapse in Nigeria landed in Pretoria on Sunday, two months after the accident.
Pretoria: A cargo plane carrying the remains of 74 South Africans killed in a building collapse in Nigeria landed in Pretoria on Sunday, two months after the accident.
A total of 116 people -- including 81 South Africans -- were killed on September 12 when a multi-storey guesthouse collapsed at a Lagos mega-church.
South Africa is also helping repatriate the bodies of three Zimbabweans and one from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who travelled with the South African group to Nigeria.
The remains of another 11 victims will be repatriated after the DNA identification process is complete.
The South African government said verification of the remains "has been the most difficult part... Because of the gruesome nature of the accident, which made the identification process difficult."
Around two dozen injured survivors were returned home 10 days after the accident.
People were crushed as the Lagos guesthouse that provided lodging for foreign followers of popular Nigerian preacher and televangelist Temitope Balogun (TB) Joshua was reduced to a pile of shattered concrete and twisted metal.
The chartered Antonov plane laden with four mortuary vans landed at the Waterkloof air force base shortly before 10:00 am (0800 GMT) in an event carried live by public broadcaster SABC.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was to preside over the official ceremony to receive the bodies later in the day.
Nigeria released the bodies on Saturday night after a high-level government delegation led by Jeff Radebe, a minister in the presidency, spent a week in Nigeria to fast-track the repatriation process.
Radebe had met President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja to discuss the speedy repatriation of the remains.
Joshua had suggested that a low-flying aircraft reportedly seen over the building four times before it came down, was to blame for the collapse, and said he had been the target of the attack.
But expert witnesses at a coroner's hearing ruled out aerial sabotage or an explosion.
The court was told the guesthouse did not have planning permission.
Survivors recounted drinking their own urine for days to survive and listening to the agonized screams of those trapped and dying in the rubble.
Joshua placed a quarter-page advertisement in one of South Africa's major weekly newspapers, the Sunday Times, saying "our deepest condolences" to the South African government and to families of victims, the "precious souls who lost their lives."