From Romanu Ugwu, Molly Kilete, Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Aidoghie Paulinus, Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
Palpable gloom and grief draped the NAF Base, Abuja, yesterday, as officers, women and children wailed uncontrollably following the death of seven officers and crew aboard Beechcraft KingAir B350i.
The plane went down exactly four minutes after it took off at the Nnamdi Azikiwe international airport. The aircraft with registration number NAF201 took off at 10:35 but crashed at exactly 10:39.
Daily Sun gathered that the surveillance aircraft was on its way to Niger State on surveillance operations as part of efforts to rescue students of Government Science Secondary School, Kagara, abducted last week by bandits.
Daily Sun gathered that all the deceased personnel were serving in Maiduguri, Borno State, under the Air Task Force of Operation Lafia Dole. They were said to have arrived Abuja Saturday night, took off to Niger and were expected to fly back to Maiduguri after the mission.
Daily Sun gathered that NAF autorities have contacted families of the deceased.
It was mourning and wailing when Daily Sun visited the NAF Base and the NAF Valley Estate in Abuja as personnel cried openly over the death of their colleagues. Church services at the base were also ended abruptly.
A source who witnessed the crash said it happened on the runway of the service at the airport. The source who did not want to be mentioned, said fire fighters who rushed to the scene to put out the fire could not do much as a result of heat from the burning aircraft.
It was gathered that while all the occupants were roasted beyond recognition, the NAF may find it difficult to identify names to bodies because none of the crew members wore a dog chain.Dog chains, a metal chains with inscription of names of personnel imprinted on it and worn over the neck, helps to identify personnel in the event of death in the battle front. In the case of fire where bodies are burnt beyond recognition, the dog chain helps rescue workers identify bodies because it would remain in whatever position and seat the deceased sat in during the crash.That way, rescue workers would pack the ashes or whatever they find in that position and tag the name of the deceased to make it easier for burial.
Meanwhile, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Vice Marshall Oladayo Amao, has ordered an investigation even as he called for calm while sympathising with families of the deceased personnel.
Director Public Relations and Information, Air Vice Marshall Ibikunle Daramola, made this known in a statement.
Daramola in a statement gave the names of the crash victims to include Flight Lieutenant Haruna Gadzama (Captain), Flight Lieutenant Henry Piyo (Co-Pilot), Flying Officer Micheal 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).
The CAS visited the scene of the accident, in company of the Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (retired); Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika; Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Lucky Irabor, and other Service Chiefs. Meanwhile the Federal Capital Territory Emergency Management Agency said it has recovered all seven bodies from the scene of the accident.
The Director-General, Alhaji Abass Idriss, who made this known said the remains of the deceased recovered few hours after the crash have been deposited at the Nigeria Air Force morgue in Abuja.
President Muhammadu Buhari confirmed that investigations into the cause of the crash were ongoing, saying the safety of the Nigerian airspace remains a key priority of the government.
A statement by his media aide, Mr. Femi Adesina, said Buhari prayed that God will comfort the bereaved families and nation, and grant the souls of the departed peaceful rest.
In its condolence message, the House of Representatives Chairman, House Committee on Air Force, Shehu Koko, said the Green Chamber was saddened by the incident.
“We highly regret the loss of our gallant officers who apparently were on a mission to rescue the kidnapped students of Government Science Secondary School in Kagara community in Niger State.”
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the United States and UK governments and Mr. Peter Obi have also expressed grief over the fatal crash.
APC, in a statement by the National Secretary, Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), Senator John Akpan Udoedehe, said the crash brought to fore the tireless work, sacrifices and hazards faced by the armed forces and other security services in their daily efforts to keep the country safe.
While he expressed sadness and shock, Chief Whip of the Senate and former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu said detailed investigation must be carried out to ascertain the cause of the crash in a bid to forestall recurrence.
In a condolence message, Kalu prayed to God to grant the departed personnel eternal rest and give their families the fortitude to bear the irreplaceable loss.
“On behalf of the people of Abia North Senatorial District, I convey my sincere and heartfelt condolences to family members of the victims of the plane crash. It is indeed a devastating incident. The cause of the tragic crash must be duly investigated to forestall recurrence. The departed souls will be remembered for their service to the nation.”
The US government also condoled with the Nigeria Air Force and families of those who lost their lives.
The British High Commission, Abuja, in a condolence message on its Twitter handle, @UKinNigeria, said: “The Untied Kingdom and all of us at @UKinNigeria are very saddened by the terrible news of today’s aircraft crash, which resulted in the loss of life of @NigAirForce staff..”
In his reaction, the vice presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr Peter Obi, described the incident as a tragic loss to the nation.
“We, as a nation, are united in prayers for the victims of the Abuja air crash. This is a painful incident for us all. May God grant the victims eternal rest,” Obi prayed.