February 22, 2021
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THE Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has 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, Niger State, where it was scheduled to conduct surveillance missions in connection with the concerted efforts to secure the release of students/ staff abducted from the Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State. 

Confirming the death of seven of its personnel in the crash, the NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Vice Marshal Ibikunle Daramola, said first responders were at the scene of the crash He added that the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Vice Marshal Oladayo Amao, had 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: 

“The deceased are Flight Lieutenant Haruna Gadzama, captain; Flight Lieutenant Henry Piyo, co-pilot; Flying Officer Michael 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.” 

Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Air Force, Honourable Shehu Koko, also confirmed that the ill-fated NAF Beechcraft KingAir B350i aircraft was on a rescue mission of abducted students of Government Science College, Kagara. 

Koko witnessed the incident along with the Chief of Air Staff and commiserated with the families of the deceased. Daramola added that the Chief of Air Staff had visited the scene of the accident, in company with the Minister of Defence, Major-General Bashir Magashi (retd); Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika; Chief of Defence Staff, Major-General Lucky Irabor and others. 

Military personnel, officials of the Federal Roads Safety Corps (FRSC) and other security agencies sealed off the scene of the incident while rescue operations lasted. Scores of journalists who had rushed down to the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja, were denied entry by security personnel.

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed sadness at the crash of the Nigerian Air Force aircraft that claimed the lives of seven personnel. According to a statement issued by Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, “on behalf of the Federal Government, President Buhari extends heartfelt condolences to family members, friends and colleagues of those who died as a result of this tragedy.” 

President Buhari disclosed that while investigations into the cause of the crash are ongoing, the safety of the Nigerian airspace remains a key priority of the government. Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State also expressed sadness over the crash, adding in a statement on Sunday that the incident is unfortunate and tragic. 

A statement by Mrs Mary Noel-Berje, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, disclosed that “it is a setback to the military, now that security forces are being overstretched due to security challenges confronting Niger State at the moment and the country at large.”

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