*NAF Confirms 7 personnel dead, commences investigation
*Safety of nation’s airspace our priority – Buhari
*Atiku, Saraki condoles NAF, deceased families
By Chesa Chesa and Williams Orji
The Nigeria Air Force has confirmed that seven personnel died on board a military aircraft which crashed at Abuja Airport on Sunday.
Sources informed that the aircraft was billed for deployment in the rescue efforts of the abducted Government Science Secondary School, Kagara, Niger State, and was on the mission when it made sudden air return after it reportedly developed engine fault about three minutes after take-off, and fatally crash landed before touching down at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport runway 12 already cleared for the pilot for emergency landing.
Unconfirmed reports disclosed that the pilot of ill-fated aircraft had complained of engine fault moments after he made some shuttle to Minna in respect of the rescue of the abducted school children, but his reports were waved aside.
According to the Nigerian Airforce, the NAF Intelligence Reconnaissance Aircraft was on a mission of search for the abducted school children atKagara, in Niger State.
So far, the identity of five of the seven victims aboard the ill-fated NAF 201 B-350i aircraft has been released. They were Flt. Lt. Gazama, Flt. Lt. Piyo, Flg. Offr. Okpara, FS Olawumi, and ACM Johnson.
Confirming the incident, the Director of Public Relations and Information (DOPPRI), Nigerian Air Force, Air Vice-Marshall Ibikunle Daramola, said investigation has been ordered to determine cause of the crash.
He urged the public to remain calm as he commiserated with families of the deceased.
On his official Twitter page, he wrote: “This is to confirm that a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Beechcraft KingAir B350i aircraft crashed while returning to the Abuja Airport after reporting engine failure enroute Minna.
Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, stated as much in his Twitter handle too.
Meanwhile, the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), the agency in charge of investigating air mishaps in Nigeria, disclosed that it does not investigate military incidents or accidents except when invited.
Spokesman of the Agency, Mr Tunji Oketunbi, who spoke against the backdrop of the crash said the body could only intervene on invitation.
Meanwhile first responders are at the scene confirmed that all seven personnel on board the dismantled and burnt-off aircraft died in the crash.
“The Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), @CAS_IOAmao, has ordered immediate investigation into the incident.
“While urging the general public to remain calm and await the outcome of investigation, the CAS, on behalf of all NAF personnel, commiserates with the families of the deceased.”
*Buhari condoles with Airforce, families of plane crash victims
Reacting to the incident, President Muhammadu Buhari expressed saddened by the fatal crash of Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Beechcraft KingAir B-350i aircraft on Sunday in Abuja that claimed the lives of seven personnel.
In a statement by the Presidency soon after the crash, the president said while investigations into crash are ongoing, the safety of the Nigerian airspace remained a key priority of his government.
“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.
“The President joins 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.
“President Buhari notes that while investigations into the cause of the crash are ongoing, the safety of the Nigerian airspace remains a key priority of the government.
“He prays that God will comfort the bereaved families and nation, and grant the souls of the departed peaceful rest”, Buhari said in a statement signed by his spokesman, Femi Adesina.
*Atiku, Saraki react to the crash
Meanwhile, former Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has reacted to the plane crash and commiserated with the families of those who lost loved ones in the crash.
In a tweet, Atiku wrote: “I have just learnt of the crash of a military aircraft near Abuja. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those onboard the ill-fated flight.”
On his part, former Senate President, Bukola Saraki tweeted: “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 B-350i plane crash. I pray for strength for the families.”