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Nigerian plane with 114 aboard missing

LAGOS, Nigeria -- A passenger plane carrying 114 people was reported missing shortly after taking off from the Nigerian city of Lagos, officials and media reported today.

The Boeing 737 aircraft, operated by Nigeria-based Bellview Airlines, lost contact with the control tower five minutes after taking off at 8:45 p.m. yesterday, said Jide Ibinola, a spokesman for the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria. It was headed to the capital, Abuja, on a 50-minute flight.

Ibinola said 108 passengers and six crew members were aboard the flight. Their nationalities were not immediately known.

Pilots issued a distress call before the plane disappeared from radar about 15 miles west of Lagos over the Atlantic Ocean, state television reported.

On its website, CNN news said Nigerian aviation authorities had confirmed that the plane had crashed. The report could not be immediately confirmed.

Most aircraft take off from Lagos, Nigeria's biggest city, in the direction of the Atlantic, and turn back toward the coast.

''We still don't have any concrete information of what became of the plane," Ibinola said. ''We've tried from neighboring countries to see if the plane landed there but there's no such information."

Bellview is a privately owned Nigerian airline that operates a fleet of mostly Boeing 737s on internal routes and throughout West Africa. Bellview began flying about 10 years ago and has not suffered a crash before. The airline is popular with expatriates, and Western diplomats feared their citizens could have been on board.

There was no word on whether the incident was considered terrorist-related.

Nigeria has never come under international terror attack, but the United States closed its consulate in Lagos for two days in June after what officials said was a phoned-in terror threat.

Nigeria, with a population of 130 million people, is roughly split between a mainly Muslim north and a Christian-dominated south.

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