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Officers who died in Abuja crash were on a mission to rescue Kagara abductees

Seven officers of the Nigerian Air Force died when a military aircraft, NAF Beechcraft King Air B350, crashed on Sunday in Abuja after suffering an…

Seven officers of the Nigerian Air Force died when a military aircraft, NAF Beechcraft King Air B350, crashed on Sunday in Abuja after suffering an engine failure.

The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, while confirming the incident via his Twitter handle, said the plane crashed “short of our Abuja runway after reporting engine failure en route Minna.”

The Nigerian Air Force said the aircraft crashed while returning to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, after reporting engine failure en-route Minna where it was scheduled to conduct surveillance mission over Niger State and its environs to secure the release of the students and staff abducted last week from the Government Science College Kagara, Niger State.

NAF spokesperson, Ibikunle Daramola, in a statement, said the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Oladayo Amao, had ordered an immediate investigation into the incident.

“Sadly, all 7 personnel on board died in the crash. While urging the general public to remain calm and await the outcome of the investigation, the CAS, on behalf of all NAF personnel, commiserates with the families of the deceased,” he said.

NAF names deceased officers

Daramola named the deceased officers as Flight Lieutenant Haruna Gadzama (Captain), Flight Lieutenant Henry Piyo (Co-Pilot), Flying Officer Micheal Okpara (Airborne Tactical Observation System (ATOS) Specialist), Warrant Officer Bassey Etim (ATOS Specialist), Flight Sergeant Olasunkanmi Olawunmi (ATOS Specialist), Sergeant Ugochukwu Oluka (ATOS Specialist) and Aircraftman Adewale Johnson (Onboard Technician).

He said “The Nigerian Air Force (NAF), earlier today, 21 February 2021, confirmed that one of its aircraft, a Beechcraft KingAir B350i (NAF 201), crashed while returning to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja after reporting engine failure en-route Minna, where it was scheduled to conduct surveillance missions over Niger State and its environs in connection with the concerted efforts to secure the release of the students/staff abducted from the Government Science College Kagara, Niger State.

“As earlier stated, the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Vice Marshal Oladayo Amao, has instituted an investigative panel to determine the remote and immediate causes of the accident.

“While the panel has commenced its work, the NAF, having notified the Next of Kins/family members of the deceased, regretfully announces that the following seven personnel lost their lives in the crash”.

It added: “Earlier, the CAS visited the scene of the accident, in the company of the Honourable Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (retired); Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika; Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Lucky Irabor, and other Service Chiefs.

“The CAS, on behalf of officers, airmen and airwomen of the NAF, once more commiserates with the families of the deceased personnel and prays that the Almighty God grants their souls eternal repose”.

Eyewitnesses speak

An eyewitness, who simply identified himself as John, told one of our correspondents that the aircraft struggled for balance in the air before it began to descend “dangerously until it hit a mango tree and eventually crashed near a stream behind Basa Aviation village.

The aircraft missed the village by about 1000 meters before it crashed thus, no cases of ground casualties.”

He said it took about 30 minutes before a rescue team and firefighters arrived on the scene.

Another eyewitness, at Basa village, said it took a while after the crash before the aircraft exploded.

The Accident Investigation Bureau of Nigeria said it had launched an investigation into the crash.

President Buhari, Atiku, Saraki, Sanwo-Olu mourn

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari President yesterday sent “heartfelt condolences” to family members, friends and colleagues of the victims of the crash.

Buhari, in a statement by his spokesman, Femi Adesina, said he was “deeply saddened” by the crash that claimed the lives of seven personnel.

He joined the Nigerian Air Force, the military and other Nigerians in mourning the unfortunate loss of the dedicated and courageous personnel, who died in the line of duty.

The president said while investigations into the cause of the crash were ongoing, the safety of the Nigerian airspace remained a key priority of the government.

Buhari prayed that God comforts the bereaved families and nation, and grant the souls of the departed peaceful rest.

Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, in a statement by his spokesman, Gboyega Akosile, also commiserated with the Federal Government and the Nigerian Air Force over the crash.

Similarly, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former Senate President Bukola Saraki condoled with families of the deceased officers.

Atiku said: “I’ve just learnt of the crash of a military aircraft near Abuja. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those on board the ill-fated flight.”

Saraki, on his official Twitter, handle @bukolasaraki, said: “At this time, my prayers are with the Nigerian Air Force and the families and friends of the military personnel involved in today’s Beechcraft KingAir B350i plane crash. I pray for strength for the families.”

Lawan, IPAC express shock

Senate President Ahmad Lawan expressed shock and sadness over the tragic news of the crash of the military aircraft.

Lawan, in a statement by his media aide Ola Awoniyi, charged the Nigerian Air Force to reinforce safety measures against future occurrence.

The Senate president also condoled with the families of those killed in the accident and prayed that Allah would comfort them in this time of grief.

In the same vein, the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) expressed shocked and sadness over the air mishap.

The spokesman of the council, Agbo Major, in a statement, said: “IPAC mourns our fallen heroes who died in the line of duty and urges the military authorities to thoroughly investigate the immediate and remote causes of this tragedy to avert a recurrence.

“As the might and strength of the nation, we urge our gallant military personnel to remain steadfast and dedicate themselves in the critical task of defending the nation’s territorial integrity and crush terrorism, insurgency, militancy, banditry and kidnapping which have claimed thousands of lives and billions of naira worth of property destroyed while hundreds of thousands of fellow compatriots are displaced.

“Your patriotic service to the fatherland will remain indelible in the hearts of the citizenry.”

Chris Agabi, Muideen Olaniyi, Idowu Isamotu, Abdullateef Salau, Abbas Jimoh (Abuja) & Christiana T. Alabi (Lagos)