By Stephen Ubanna
This is not the best of times for the Nigerian Air Force, NAF. This is because the military Formation had lost three of its Hawker Beechcraft Aircrafts within a space of three months.
This had resulted in the deaths of some 20 senior military officers including Ibrahim Attahiru, a Lt. General and Chief of Army Staff, COAS. The late COAS, had replaced Yusuf Tukur Buratai , a Lt.General and former COAS, now a Non-career Ambassador in January 26, 2021. His death has thrown the country into mourning as it has dominated the talks of Nigerians from the sisx-gepolitical divide.
The death of the Army Lt. General and COAS, within five months of taken over from Buratai, the former COAS, who had served in that capacity for over over five years, had made him the shortest to occupy the office in the recent time. This may have informed why the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, had asked President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Aemy General to treat the military plane crash ”as a national emergency”. The CAN has asked the the Kastina state born Nigerian President ”to ascertain that all military Aircraft are fit for flights before embarking on any trip.
The first of the NAF King Air 350i Aircraft, procured by the NAF, had crashed while on a surveillance mission to the north east state of Borno, described as the home of the Islamic Fundamental Group, BokoHaram and the Islamic State of the West African Province, ISWAP. the Surveillance military Aircraft had flown to Borno state to support the Operation Lafiya Dole, now re-labelled as Operation Hadin Kai, fighting troops in April 2021.
The second of such NAF Hawker Beechcraft aircraft crashed on its way to Minna, Capital of Niger, home state of retired Generals Ibrahim Babangida, a former military President and Abdulsalami Abubakar, an erstwhile Head of state, on a surveillance missions over the state and its environs. The surveillance missions was in connection with the ground troops efforts to secure the release of the 42students / staff of Government Science College, Kagara, abducted by Bandits on February 21, 2021 The plane was said to have developed engine failure. Oladayo Isiaka Amao, an Air Marshal and Chief of Air Staff, CAS, had confirmed that all he seven Passengers in the surveillance aircraft lost their lives.
But the latest of the NAF Beechcraft Aircraft accidents had occurred on Friday, May 21, 2021, barely 24 hours after the Nigerian President returned from France where he had attended the African Finance Summit. The NAF Beecchcraft Aircraft crash had also occurred three days after the gun battle between the two rival terrorists Groups, BokoHaram and the Islamic State of West African Province, ISWAP, at the sambisa forests which had resulted in the alleged death of Abuabakar Shekau, the BokoHaram Leader. The rumour making the rounds was that two officers on the Aircraft had flown down with their Parachute before the plane finally crashed but they could not be found.
The Crash of the three NAF, Aircrafts within An a space of three months had called to questions the reliability of the Beechcraft Military surveillance Aircraft procured from the Us Manufacturers price range of between $10 million and $4million. The crash of the NAF , three Beechcraft Aircrafts in three months have given an insight to the variants of the Aircraft in NAF bases in Lagos and other Locations.
Between 164, and now, the Manufacturers of the Hawker Beechcraft Aircraft 350i, were said to have produced and sold over 7,000 variants around the world, mostly for military surveillance operations . Nigeria is not left out among the 105 countries using the US Company King Air 350i. Note that Beech Aircraft Corporation, the original manufacturers, became a wholly owned subsidiary of Raytheon in 1980. Informed sources told The Magazine that the Company has continued to incorporate improvements and conditions to the King Air 350i Aircraft to withstand any rough weather and engine failures.
The purchase price of the King Air 350i, Beechcraft Aircraft for military and surveillance, Operations which are fitted with Cameras, including military electronic versions that can monitor radar missions and intercept Communications, according to informed sources had made the prices to be high, ranging between $10 million and $4million. This however depends on the variant.
Investigations by The Magazine shows that a six or seven year old one, built between 2009 to 2011 could be purchased from the US, Manufacturers with about $10 million or 10.5 million while the ones manufactured between 2009 and 2001 are typically in the range of $8million to $8.5million.
There are indications that the prices for the second hand ones varies depending on the level of maintenance, record keeping , and upkeep. The prices, a security expert disclosed ranges between $4million and $4.595 million. The fear in both official and unofficial circles was that the military Contractors may have been supplying the second hand King Air Beehcraft 350i Aircrafts to NAF, for their own pecuniary gains with their AirForce officers Collaborators, and which may have informed why the Aircrafts which have two Pratt and whitney PT60A engines had regularly developed engines failures leading to plane Crash and loss of human lives in Nigeria.
The Pilot of the King Air 350i Beechcraft Aircraft carrying Attahiru , the COAS, his Orderly, the Acting Chief of Military Intelligence, Acting Army Provost Marshall, Acting Deputy Director ,Finance in the office of the COAS, and the Aide-de- Camp were said to be on their way to Kaduna state ahead of the passing out parade of officers from the Nigerian military depot, Zaria, katsina state. The COAS, may have seen trip as opportunity to pay official visits to the fighting troops in the state which has had been facing security challenges in the recent months.
The King Air 350i Beechcraft Aircraft with registration number, 5N- R203, according to informed sources was billed ‘’ to land at the NAF base in the Mando Area’’ before it was allegedly diverted to Kaduna International Airport as the Pilot was said to have made all the necessary efforts to land at the Airport when it became obvious that it was impossible landing at the NAF base at Mando Area of the state due to perceived technical fault.
Edward Gabwet, NAF, spokesperson , had confirmed that’’ Beechcraft Aircraft crashed near the Kaduna Airport’’. He had said that investigations are on-going to ascertain the cause of the plane crash which had killed all the senior military officers on board. Soldiers were said to have cordoned off the site where the NAF plane had crashed at the Kaduna Airport to prevent the Civil Aviation officials from gaining access to the site pending the arrival of officials from the Accident Investigation Bureau, AIB. That much was confirmed by Amina Salami, the Manager of the Kaduna Airport who had said that ‘’only the AIB will determine the actual cause of the crash’’.
Already, the AIB, officials were said to have recovered the Flight Data Recorder, FDR, and the Cockpit Voice Recorder, CVR, popular, black box, from the Crashed Beechcraft Aircraft that led the deaths of the the country’s COAS and 10 other senior officers.Tunji Oketunbi, the AIB, General Manager and spokesperson that the information contained on the black box will be dwnloaded and analysed at the AIB-N’s World class Flight Safety Laboratory. Nigerians are waiting to get the report of the immediate and remote causes of the Kaduna plane crash in order to address it decisively and avoid a future occurrence.
The retired Army General Nigerian President had described the NAF Beechcraft Aircraft ‘’as a mortal blow at a time the country military are posed to end the insecurity challenges facing the country’’.Abubakar Bello, governor of Niger state, had described the death of Lt. General, who incidentally is from the state ‘’as a colossal to Nigeria, particularly at a time when the military is confronting issues of insecurity challenges in different parts of the country’’.
Buratai, the immediate past COAS, and Ambassador -Designate to Republic of Benin Republic who had described the late Attahiru ”as a courageous, loyal, and patriotic Nigerians in line of duty had said that the Army Lt.General was at” the verge of making Nigeria proud with the progress made in the counter-insurgency and counter terrorism efforts and ending the insecurity situation in other parts of the country before his untimely death in the Kaduna Air crash.
The military Authorities had suggested that the NAF Beechcraft Aircraft might have crashed due to” bad weather conditions”. However,this may be be difficult to believe as the US Company that had manufactured the Aircraft had said that Beechcraft Aircraft Aircraft , 350i variant is well equipped to withstand any rough weather conditions.
Babagana Zulum, a Professor and governor of Borno state who has been working closely with the late Atahiru, when he was the Commander of the Operation Lafiya Dole, now Operation Hadin Kai, had said that he was ‘’evidently Committed to the fight against BokoHaram and ISWAP, and was determined to significantly contribute to ending the insurgency in the north east geopolitical region’’.
Zulum , who could not hide his feelings had said that ‘’the commitment of the COAS, was very obvious within the short time he served, noting that had been to Borno on multiple occasions ,’’ meeting Field Commanders and troops at the battlefronts’’. He was said to have regularly motivated the officers, in different Army Formations in front lines in peace building efforts.
As a way of paying him his last respect, who was said to have been accompanied by Kashim Sttima, a Senator of Federal Republic of Nigeria and a former governor of the state were said to attended the funeral Prayers at the National Mosque in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, on Friday, May, May 21,2021. The Nigerian COAS and the 10 other other senior officers who died in Beechcraft Aircraft were buried at the National Cemetery, on Saturday, May 22, 2021.
the Femi Gbajabiamila led House of Representatives on their part were said to have postponed the much publicised security summit scheduled to hold on Monday,May 24, 2021.