THE BIG BANG
Saturday 24th June 2000
Three days before my 58th birthday, disaster stroke! As usual, the Hasher's gathered at the Croc-Top ready to proceed to the run site which was today 25 "clicks" up Ibadan Express Way. We
all had a couple of beers, hoping this would reduce the pain while on the run! The "Hare" of this run was Declan "Wild Rover".
On this fateful afternoon my children and my wife could not join us since they wanted to attend a school event. This proofed to be a very lucky coincidence. At about. 15:00 we departed from the
"CROC". Halfway, we passed by the charred body of a lynched "thief". The mob slipped him a used lorry tire over the head and shoulder, poured fuel over him and set him ablaze. The whole procedure is called "Tire-Fire" ,
a popular way to lynch suspected thieves and other criminals! Our driver made a funny remark unaware that he would end up in a similar way only minutes later!
We traveled in a Pick Up with John Watson, an Australian Pilot for Bristow Helicopters, "Scratcher" and a local girl. When reaching the spot where we had to join a narrow bush road, leading under the express way, we
encountered a big traffic jam. A fuel tanker dropped over the bridge and was hanging halfway down the embankment. After a brief discussion, we decided to take the risk and use the bush trail since there was no
workable alternative. We took the lead in the Pick-Up. "Lord Lucan"; followed in the 2nd car with some other "Hashers". We crossed the tumbled tanker, the driver still trapped in his cabin. Under the bridge we encountered a
pool of "water", or so we thought! As we were about in it, the engine stalled. The driver tried to restart the engine and then I heard a horrific sound, "Hushhhhh". I looked around a saw nothing than flames. My first
thought was: "shit"! But a split second later I leaped out of the car and dashed in the direction I sensed secure ground. The flames were all over me. I wrapped the towel around my head and I reached a shallow hill not
yet on fire. My clothes and socks were burning. To avoid further ignitions of fuel puddles, I extinguished the flames, badly burning my unprotected hands in the process. I couldn't feel it,It didn't matter! After a short
consideration, I dashed through the firewall ahead and struggled towards the high ground in front of me, any moment expecting the explosion of the fuel tanker behind me. I made it and met other hashers from our car,
all covered in ash, seriously burned and in a state of shock. Only our driver was missing. As it turned out, he died in the flames as he was trying to escape. he ran in the wrong direction and into a pillar of the bridge. He got
caught by the flames. As I climbed out of the fiery swamp, John Watson looked at me in amazement, apparently no longer expecting to see me alive! Then he asked me, whether I'm aware that we are all "Done with"! I could not
reply because the tanker exploded with a Big Bang. Or better a Whhuumm, as 35'000 liters of fuel blew up. Flames shot high into the sky and covered the bridge, just at the spot, where most on lookers where gathered. Many paid
their curiosity with their lives. The spectacle was breathtaking. To top it, also our Pick Up burst in flames and the inferno was complete. Trees and bushes exploded in flames. I had a very narrow escape indeed and 3 of us
where not that lucky, as it turned out!
Looking at my friends, I realized that we were in deep trouble. The girl among us was in the worst condition. Her synthetic tights were completely burnt and melted into her body, she got lost in the inferno. John got her
out but she did not make it in the end. Also John paid the ultimate price for his bravery a few days later. All of us looked and smelled dreadful. We had to organize our rescue. We were also worried about the fate of the
second vehicle. They were lucky as it turned out. As soon as they realized what was happening to us, they rushed out of the car and ran for their lives. They sustained only minor injuries. Only the car got completely burnt
out. Being in Nigeria, we could not expect such amenities as ambulances, helicopters or other fancy stuff. The police would also not be of any help and would not show up soon anyway. We had to help ourselves! So we climbed
to the Express Way. There we met a monumental chaos. We hijacked a car, ordered the passengers out and urged the driver to rush us to the Ikeja General Hospital. He was horrified at our looks and didn't resist. He drove like
mad through the traffic jams and made it to the Hospital only to find out that they where on a strike! No doctors or nurses in attendance! Some sympathetic onlookers organized beds. John alerted his Company (Bristow
Helicopters) over the phone to explain our critical situation.
Than I just laid down and waited. The girl shouted in pain and agony. Also the rest of us, as the shock receded, started to the feel the terrible burns. After 2 never ending hours, some doctors appeared and administered
injections. The extend of our burns were beyond their capability and they took no further actions. At about 18:00 a mini bus, organized by Bristow Helicopters, carried us to our regular clinic in the Ajao Estate. There I
met my wife and children. My remark, that we look like roasted chicken, did not cheer them up. I just tried to reassure them that I was myself. The children looked very worried! I suggested to go home and see how the burns
are developing. I still had the idea, that after a couple of beers and a good sleep all would be back to normal! Of course, that was in complete ignorance of the reality. It was then decided that the girl would be brought to
a reputed local hospital. She died 2 days later. John Watson was flown to the UK for medical care. Unfortunately he died a couple of days later in the UK.
Myself, was carried to a Lebanese clinic in Lagos for emergency burn treatment. Four days later, I was flown out, on a stretcher, by a regular Swissair flight, to Zürich. The
delays where caused by lack of funds difficulty in communication. It almost killed me. After landing in Zürich I was rushed to the University Hospital. Just in time! With 56% burns, mostly 3rd degree, it was almost too late.
I looked like the "Michelin Man", all swollen up, a real mess. After 3 months in intensive care, a lot of operations and skin transplantations, I was transferred to a clinic in Wald for rehabilitation. The prognosis
for a complete recovery was mixed, but than, I have heard that before!
... The future looked quite bleak. I also decided not to return to Nigeria again. Apart from a huge debt, there was nothing to salvage from TEXCO, not even my toothbrush. At 58, with no job and any means of livelihood I had no alternative than to turn to Social Security. The chance
of finding a new job, was ruled out by most. I could not accept this "Bull-Shit". After 3 months and completion of some REHA, I started seriously looking for a New Challenge in Switzerland. After several dozens of
applications and interviews, Messrs. Rieter, Winterthur, where I made my apprenticeship 45 years ago, gave me the chance to join their Machinery Sales Team in the back-office. Now the whole tragic incident turned out as a
"Blessing in Disguise"! Naturally, I felt very sorry for my friends and innocent bystanders which lost their lives in the inferno!
The tragic aftermath of the "The Big Bang!"