The Nigerian Air Force, on Thursday confirmed the death of five crew members aboard its combat helicopter that crashed on Wednesday, during air operation in Damasak, Northern Borno state.
The helicopter crashed at about 7.45pm while providing close air support to ground troops of 145 Battalion in the area.
The NAF had, on Wednesday, said the combat aircraft went missing about 7:45 pm, saying details of the cause of the crash were still scanty.
In an update provided on the incident by the NAF spokesperson, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, the deceased personnel were listed as Flight Lieutenant Perowei Jacob – (Pilot in Command), Flight Lieutenant Kaltho Paul Kilyofas (Co-Pilot.), Sergeant Auwal Ibrahim (Flight Technician), Lance Corporal Adamu Nura (Gunner), and Aircraftman Meshack Ishmael (Gunner.)
“These gallant fallen heroes made the supreme sacrifice in the service of our fatherland, for which the NAF, and indeed the entire nation, owes them an unending debt of gratitude,” he said.
Daramola said the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, had commiserated with the families of the five fallen heroes and “prays that the Almighty grants their souls peaceful repose.
“The CAS was in Maiduguri today, 3 January 2019, to convey the condolences of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, President Muhammed Buhari, to personnel of the Air Task Force Operation LAFIYA DOLE over the unfortunate loss. While in Maiduguri, the CAS also received a condolence visit from the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai,” he said.
He said the remains of the deceased personnel had been evacuated to Maiduguri, the Borno state capital.
Meanwhile, ahead of the outcome of NAF’s investigation into the causes of the unfortunate incident, some natives in the locality where the crash occurred, have given their accounts of how it all happened.
The fighter aircraft bombarded Boko Haram hideout situated at some 10 kilometers away from Damasak town.
Eye witnesses in Damasak and the surrounding villages closer to the scene of the accident, told Blueprint reporter on the telephone that they saw the helicopter going up in flames following a heavy and strange sound that echoed round the environment.
One of them, Burra Goni Kura said, “we actually saw the helicopter burning and falling with black smoke all over the place, accompanied with the very unusual strange sound.
“The incident did not occur right at the insurgents’ hideout after they had been bombed. In other words, it was not at the same spot that the bomb was dropped on the Boko Haram fighters. The crash happened at a place a bit far from the scene of the bombing.”
In his own version, Bakura Modu, a farmer said,” initially, we did not know what was going on until we saw another plane moving in the air, in the opposite direction where there was the heavy sound resulting from the crash. It was a thick black smoke we saw that suggested that crash had occurred.
“The thick black smoke that filled the air, instilled further fear into our people, considering the high level insecurity that continuously lives with us. However, nobody could dare going there because, like I said, of the security implications.”
Of recent, the Northern Borno axis of the state has become so vulnerable to attacks by the Islamic State of West African Province fighters, who, at different times, attempted overrunning the military bases at Metele, Mongnuo, Buni Gari and Baga, which was the latest in the series of failed attacks.
Buhari, Buratai’s condolences
Meanwhile, President Buhari has condoled with the NAF and relations of the deceased officers who lost their lives in the crash.
Commiserating with the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, the President said it was sad that the fine officers and men lost their lives in the bid to guarantee the safety and protection of their countrymen.
The President also condoled with the families and relations of the deceased, stressing that the dead officers and men were heroes, who paid the supreme price for peace to reign in the country.
He assured that rather than dampen the morale of troops fighting insurgency in the North-east, the unfortunate development would rather bolster their resolve to completely eliminate all evildoers within the shortest possible time.
Similarly, the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General TY Buratai, also paid a condolence visit to Air Marshal Abubakar, at the Headquarters of Air Task Force Command of Operation LAFIYA DOLE, Maiduguri.
Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Sani K. Usman, in a statement on Thursday, quoted the army boss as saying he was there on behalf of officers and
soldiers of the Nigerian Army, to commiserate with the families, officers, airmen and airwomen of the NAF and indeed all Nigerians, over the crash.
He prayed God to grant their souls eternal rest, adding that the gallant heroes’ death would not be in vain as they died in active service for the security of their fatherland, to safeguard the lives of the citizens and serve humanity in general.
Describing the armed forces as one family who go through various training institutions, operate and live together as professionals, he said as one family, the Nigerian Army felt thepain of the sad incident.
Usman further stated that military job is associated with high risks, saying however that, “as professionals, we accept such divine destiny in good faith.”
He then called on the Director Military Intelligence, Major General SA Adebayo and the Acting General Officer Commanding 7 Division and Commander Sector 1, Operation LAFIYA DOLE, Brigadier General Bulama Biu to lead in the prayers for the repose of the souls of the departed heroes.
Speaking earlier, the CAS thanked the COAS for coming to share their pains and grief over the sad incident.
He further assured that the NAF would continue to support and work with the Nigerian Army, even as he commended the gallantry of other pilots despite the bereavement.
The NAF boss also assured that despite the high risk associated with the military profession, they would continue to give their best to ensure the success of the fight against terrorism and insurgency in the country.
Present at the occasion apart from both Service Chiefs, were Principal Staff Officers at both Services Headquarters and field commanders and pilots at the theatre command.
Shettima to visit Monguno on Friday
Meanwhile, Governor Kashim Shettima’s visit to Monguno earlier scheduled for yesterday, was postponed till today.
Political rallies on hold
Similarly, the proposed APC Borno North senatorial district electioneering campaigns expected to kick-start yesterday, has also been put on hold , as the military advised the governor and his entourage not to proceed to Mobbar LGA, because it has become unsafe following Wednesday’s crash of the NAF aircraft.