The death of the officers increased the number of military personnel, who died in crashes involving NAF aircraft, to 33 in six years. Also, during the period, the Nigerian military lost 11 aircraft to crashes.
On February 21, a Beechcraft KingAir B350i aircraft crashed while returning to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport after reporting engine failure en route Minna. Seven crew members on board the jet died.
In the interview with The PUNCH, Gabkwet was asked if NAF would ground Beechcraft KingAir B350i since there had been two crashes involving it in recent times.
He said such an action would be hasty, adding that investigations into the fatal crashes were still going on.
Gabkwet, however, assured Nigerians that NAF would decide on fatal crashes after thorough the investigation it was jointly carrying out with the Accident Investigation Bureau.
He stated, “We want to be as transparent as possible. Nigerians will be fully informed about the outcome of the investigation. We are going to have a joint press conference with the AIB and make sure everybody gets the outcome of this investigation.
“In the meantime, we are not rushing into taking certain decision that would hamper our own operations. Mind you, we still have operations ongoing. We must be careful about the kind of action we take. We should not take our eyes off the ball, we must remain focused in whatever we are doing, not take rash decisions just to please few critics on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. No, we won’t do that.”
Gabkwet explained that the two Beechcraft aircraft that crashed were different series, noting that the one which crashed in Abuja in March was configured for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance while the Beechcraft involved in Friday’s crash in Kaduna was a passenger aircraft.
He said, “You have to understand; a lot of things go into the grounding of an entire fleet of aircraft. One thing that can make us ground them is based on the recommendation of the board (of inquiry). We have been using that (Beechcraft) aircraft for almost 10 years and we have had just two crashes of that aircraft, then we ground it; then, we are not been fair to ourselves. It has been the most reliable transport aircraft we had until this accident.
‘’So, going to ground it is too swift and the Accident Investigation Bureau and the Nigerian Air Force are working hand-in-hand to make sure they come out with something all Nigerians will see and that’s why we are involving the AIB in this investigation.”
Investigations reveal that the NAF has a number of Chinese Chengdu F-7s, JF-17 Thunder Multirole Fighter jets, 13 Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jets, helicopter gunships, armed attack drones and military transport aircraft.
Two pilots, plane still missing
Besides the aircraft that crashed on Friday and in February, on March 31, a NAF Alpha jet with two crew members carrying out a mission against Boko Haram terrorists in Borno State disappeared from the radar at 6pm and has not been found.
The cause of the crash and the whereabouts of the pilots remain unknown.
The NAF has declared the pilots – John Abolarinwa and Ebiakpo Chapele – missing in action.
The Boko Haram sect had posted the footage of a burning wreckage of a plane, saying its fighters shot down the aircraft but this was denied by the air force.
On Sunday, Gabkwet, an air commodore, told one of our correspondents that there was no update on the two missing pilots missing since March 31.
He noted that the plane and the pilots had not been found. “The pilots have been declared missing in action until we are able to ascertain what happened to that plane and the two officers,’’ he added.
When asked why reports of military crashes were not disclosed to the public, the NAF spokesman explained that the probe into the latest accident would be revealed to Nigerians.
He said, “It is unfortunate that three air crashes have happened under the current Chief of Air Staff but we will present the outcome of this crash to Nigerians. That is why we are involving the AIB in the investigation to ensure transparency.’’
However, the Air Investigation Bureau, Nigeria, which is probing the Friday incident, said it had recovered the Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder from the Beechcraft 350 aircraft.
Among the air crashes recorded between 2015 and 2021 was one involving a training helicopter, which crashed in the NAF Base in Enugu on November 14, 2019, after returning from a routine training exercise. Fortunately, there were no fatalities or injuries to any crewmember or persons on the ground.
Similarly, on August 17, 2019, a NAF aircraft RV-6A Air Beetle crashed near Kaduna, killing the pilot, an experienced instructor.
The plane reportedly lost height and crashed but the pilot died before rescuers got to the scene.
A NAF helicopter also crashed in the process of landing while returning from an anti-banditry combat mission in the North-West Theatre under Operation Hadaran Daji in Katsina State, on June 12, 2019.
The then NAF spokesman, Ibikunle Daramola, said no life was lost in the incident, which occurred at the Katsina Airport at 3.30pm.
On January 2, 2019, five crew members aboard a Nigerian Air Force Mi-35 helicopter gunship were killed when the aircraft crashed near Damasak, Borno State.
The Russia-built Mi-35M attack helicopter was providing close air support to troops of 145 Battalion, Damasak when it crashed.
The remains of the crew – Flight Lieutenants Perowei Jacob, Kaltho Kilyofas, Sgt Auwal Ibrahim, L/Corporal Adamu Nura and Aircraftman Meshack Ishmael – were interred in Maiduguri.
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An investigation into the crash was subsequently commissioned, but the outcome has not been made public two years after.
Two F-7Ni aircraft crashed around Katampe Hills in Abuja, on September 28, 2018. The airplanes collided with each other during a rehearsal for Nigeria’s 58th independence anniversary celebration.
While the three pilots ejected successfully from the aircraft, one of them, however, lost his life after he suffered head injuries.
On July 6, 2017, a NAF Agusta 109 Light Utility Helicopter crashed in Borno River. There were no casualties.
The helicopter was on a liaison mission when it developed a technical fault causing the pilot to lose control. To avoid fatalities, the pilot crash-landed in a river.
Though no life was lost in the incident, the then Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar immediately constituted a board of inquiry to unravel the cause of the incident.
A statement signed by the then Director of Public Relations and Information of NAF, Air Commodore Olatokunbo Adesanya, said members of the board of inquiry visited Maiduguri to carry out their assignment.
On August 29, 2015, a Nigerian Air Force plane crashed into a house in Kaduna, killing all seven people on board. The four crew members and three civilian passengers died after the aircraft which was on a routine flight crashed into a house within the barracks.
In another incident on October 10, 2015, a F-7Nl jet crashed and claimed one life, while an Augusta Westland 101 helicopter crashed in Makurdi, Benue State on November 15, 2016.
The House of Representatives had criticised the NAF for the incessant crashes which had led to loss of lives and aircraft.
The former Chief of Air Staff, A Abubakar, appeared before the Committee on Air Force in Abuja on December 9, 2019, where he was grilled behind closed doors on the crashes.
The House had organised a public investigative hearing on ‘the incessant non-combatant related air crashes by the Nigerian Air Force.’
The Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, who was represented by the acting Majority Leader, Mr Peter Akpatason, noted that the House had resolved to work with relevant national security agencies to determine the present needs and provide funding for recruitment, training and equipment for a dynamic and proactive security apparatus, especially air power.
But Abubakar claimed the NAF aircraft had between 70 and 82 per cent serviceability status.
Security experts want Air Force fleet investigated
But a security expert, Nnamdi Anekwe, in an interview with The PUNCH, said all aircraft in the fleet of the Nigerian Air Force should be grounded until all previous crashes were investigated.
Anekwe said, “I think this is a reflection of how dysfunction Nigeria is. It is extending to the nation’s armed forces. The Nigerian Armed Forces are supposed to be elite and centre of excellence but the Nigerian state has failed to provide them with the resources to have a modern fleet, and inadequate funds to maintain the existing air assets.
“The security implication is such that we lose trained manpower, and a depletion of the already depleted air manpower. It will definitely impact the war on terror and internal security operations.
“The Nigerian Air Force must ground all available air assets, audit them and phase out the moribund ones that are not suitable for the skies, and introduce a strict protocol of maintenance and regular checks.
“The Nigerian government must implement a programme of acquisition of modern air assets with immediate effect.”
Another security expert, Timothy Avele, said the development could send a wrong signal among military officers.
He said, “Losing 11 military aircraft and 33 officers in just six years calls for serious concern.
“First, it could send wrong signal among military officers, especially the top and high ranking officers.
“Secondly, military aircraft do not come cheap, hence it’s a big setback in terms of hardware to the military and economic loss to the country at large.
“I am of the view that a thorough investigation is conducted to unravel the immediate and remote causes of these crashes. Among the investigators should be included intelligence forensic and counter-intelligence officers.”
Three military aircraft crashing in two months devastating, should be probed – Reps
The House of Representatives’ Committee on Army called for an investigation of the recent accidents involving aircraft of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
The Chairman of the committee, Mr Abdulrazak Namdas, who stated in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “We have recorded three air crashes in two months. This is really devastating. I think we all have to go back to the drawing board and see what the reason is, because it shows that our safety record is really going down. That can be very demoralizing. And we still have some of these planes on ground. I think we will have to wake up.”