The Nigerian Air Force plane that crashed in Abuja recently is a sad reminder that we are yet to fully sanitise our airspace. The plane, a Beechcraft King Air 350i, reportedly had engine failure. The pilot was directed to land at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja. The aircraft didn’t make it as it crashed shortly after the perimeter fence of the Abuja Airport. Seven people perished in that incident. Nigeria’s Aircraft Investigation Bureau and the United States National Transportation Safety Board are said to have started investigating the crash.
It is unfortunate that we have, once again, lost brilliant officers in an avoidable accident. We understand they were on their way to Minna, the Niger State capital, to join in the rescue efforts of the now released students of Government Science School, Kagara in Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State. Some bandits had abducted the students from their hostels and made demands for ransom.
Incidentally, the Beechcraft crash is not the first military plane to crash in Nigeria. In September 1992, a Nigerian military transport plane, Hercules C-130, crashed soon after take-off from Lagos, killing all 159 people on board. Many of those killed were middle-ranking military officers attending a staff college course in Jaji, Kaduna State. In September 2006, a Dornier 228 military plane crashed at Vandekiya in Benue State, killing 10 Generals and four other military officers.
Outside military planes, there have been many other plane crashes in Nigeria since the first major accident involving a Federal Government owned VC-10 aircraft which occurred in November 1969. The aircraft, which flew from London, crashed as it prepared to land at the then Ikeja Airport, killing all 87 passengers and crew members on board.
In June 1991, an Okada Airlines plane with 55 passengers crashed in Sokoto, killing three passengers. In November 1996, Aviation Development Company (ADC) Airlines Boeing 727 plunged into a Lagos lagoon, killing 142 people on board. In May 2002, a BACI-11-500 plane operated by Executive Airlines Services (EAS) crashed in Kano, killing about 148 people. Bellview Airlines could not recover after the crash of its Boeing 737 soon after take-off from Lagos in October 2005. About 117 people on board died in that accident. In December 2005, a Sosoliso Airline DC-9 which took off from Abuja with some prominent Nigerians including Loyola Jesuits students crashed in Port Harcourt, killing 108 people on board. Sosoliso never recovered from the accident. In June 2012, it was the turn of Dana Airline plane which crashed in Lagos, killing 159 people – 153 on board and six on the ground.
Apart from these accidents, Nigeria has recorded some minor incidents that put question marks on our safety consciousness. In September 1991, for instance, a Kabo Airline plane crashed in Port Harcourt. No life was lost. In July 2005, an Air France plane crashed into a herd of cows while landing at the Port Harcourt Airport. Luckily, no life was lost, but the plane was badly damaged.
The reason these accidents occur is partly because of negligence and lack of maintenance culture. For instance, a final report by the Accident Investigation Bureau in 2017, blamed mechanical failure and pilot error for the Dana Air crash of 2012. Two engines of the aircraft had failed mid-air before it crashed.
Besides, Nigeria has inadequate emergency rescue facilities and our response to emergencies is very poor. We need to change that attitude. We need to begin to take air safety very seriously. There could have been minimal casualties if there was quick intervention by the fire service personnel or other emergency responders to salvage the Air Force plane that crashed in Abuja.
It is reassuring that President Muhammadu Buhari said he remained committed to the safety of the Nigerian airspace. The President should walk his talk this time. The fire service at our airports should be well equipped with modern equipment including fire fighting helicopters to rapidly respond to this type of emergency.
Other safety measures should be put in place to tackle emergencies of this nature. Air Force authorities and commercial airlines should ensure that their aircraft are well serviced regularly.
While we lament the tragic incident, we commiserate with the Air Force, the families and friends of the departed officers. Having died in active service, the deceased should be accorded full military honours. Government should not abandon the families they left behind. Now that they have been buried, government should immortalise them by making sure that our armed forces are adequately taken care of in terms of their welfare and military equipment. Routing all bandits operating from different forests in Nigeria will be a fitting tribute to their memories.