After two months of jockeying jetliners around Nigeria, pilot Peter Waxtan was supposed to depart for his Fort Lauderdale home Sunday for a well-earned furlough. He was to have arrived here Wednesday.
Before he left, however, he took the helm of Dana Air Flight 992, which crashed into a densely populated neighbourhood in Lagos, on Nigeria's coast. All 153 people aboard the McDonnell Douglas MD-83, including Waxtan, 55, perished. At least 10 people on the ground died as well.ã€€
"It's just so devastating," said a Coral Springs flight attendant who knew Waxtan. "He was a good guy; he was one of my favourites."
Flight 992 was about five miles out on its final approach to the Lagos airport when Waxtan declared an emergency. Witnesses said it appeared the plane was having engine trouble, Wason said.
The jetliner crashed into a two-story railway building, hitting the ground tail first and exploding in flames. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan suspended Dana Air's licence and ordered an investigation.
Pat Squires, a pilot who worked with Waxtan for 15 years, described his friend as a "consummate professional" at flying. "He was the best MD-80 captain I've ever seen," said Squires, formerly of Broward County and now of Phoenix.
Squires said crash photos showing Flight 992 on the ground with its nose up indicates Waxtan was trying to keep it in the air right until the end.
"He did everything he could to save that aircraft," Squires said. "In the end, if he knew it was going down, he did everything he could to minimise the amount of damage on the ground."
"If nothing else, his efforts were heroic."
Waxtan worked at Spirit from 1997 to 2009, when he and Squires were terminated. "It was a political thing," Squires said, which occurred during union negotiations with the airline. Both men then flew for Falcon Air Express, a Miami-based charter service.
Last fall they both departed Falcon. Waxtan later joined Dana Air, where he worked 30 days on and 15 off, Squires said.
"Sunday was supposed to be his last day in the rotation in Nigeria," he said.
Waxtan lived with Lisa, his fiancée, who through a friend declined to give her last name. "He spent as much time as he could get with her," Squires said.
Three other friends, flight attendants or other workers at Spirit Airlines, described Waxtan as a "genuine nice guy" who was quick with a smile or a joke. They asked that their names not be used, however, because officials at Spirit have prohibited employees from speaking about their lost friend.
Squires said Waxtan was a former Army helicopter pilot who enjoyed hiking. About three weeks ago, the two men spoke. "He was very happy, he kept telling me, 'We need captains, come on over’," Squires recalled.
"I'm still in shock," said the friend, his voice breaking. "God, I'm going to miss him."