Abuja Air Crash & The Fight Against Bandits: The Brave Men Who Gave Their Lives To Free Our Students

One thing stood out from the information provided by the Nigerian Air Force on the plane crash that threw Nigeria into mourning yesterday, Sunday 21st February, 2021 – that the Beechcraft KingAir B350i (NAF 201), which crashed and killed all the 7 air force men on board was scheduled to conduct surveillance missions over Niger State and its environs, in connection with the concerted efforts to secure the release of the students/staff abducted from the Government Science College Kagara.

The place crashed while returning to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja after reporting engine failure on its way to Minna, the Niger State capital.

In effect, this Black Sunday and the mourning it has generated is attributable to the activities of these terrorists and kidnappers who are almost being treated with kid gloves, with some top government officials calling for amnesty for those who are said to be repenting while another official claims bandits are not criminals.

Flight Lieutenant Haruna Gadzama (The Captain)

The 7 officers who died in the ill-fated crash are Flight Lieutenant Haruna Gadzama (Captain); Flight Lieutenant Henry Piyo (Co-Pilot); Flying Officer Michael 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).

With their death went their dreams and enthusiasm of releasing Nigeria from the grip of bandits and other terrorists that have held Nigeria to ransom, not just in the North East and North Central, but in almost every part of the country.

The aircraft model they flew in is regarded as a reliable model, with civil and military options and in use all over the world.

The King Air has a relatively modest accident and incident record compared to others in its category in the aviation industry.

In fact, the model that crashed yesterday, the 350i, has recorded since 1980, only one recorded accident among the Beechcraft King Air group and that was on July 30, 2019, when a Pakistan Army King Air 350i crashed in Punjab, Pakistan, killing all five on board.

Because of its popularity and versatility, many top civil and military leaders have also been victims of previous crashes, including the Presidents of Ecuador and Macedoinia.

Recorded accidents and incidents of the King Air since 1980 are:

  • On February 21, 1980, a Model 200 operating as Advance Airlines Flight 4210 crashed adjacent to the runway at Sydney Airport, killing 13 people in the worst civil aviation accident in Australia since 1968.
  • On May 24, 1981, a Super King Air 200 of the Ecuadorian Air Force flew into a mountain with the loss of all 9 on board including Jaime Roldós Aguilera, the President of Ecuador.
  • On February 17, 1993, a Turkish Air Force Super King Air B200 transporting Eşref Bitlis (the General Commander of the Turkish Gendarmerie) crashed minutes after taking off from the Güvercinlik Army Air Base in Ankara killing all five on board and one on the ground.
  • On September 4, 2000, after departing Perth, Western Australia, the pilot of a Model 200 Super King Air failed to respond to ATC after the aircraft climbed above its assigned altitude. It continued to fly across Australia for five hours before crashing near Burketown in northwestern Queensland, killing all eight on board. Dubbed the “Ghost Flight” by the media, an investigation concluded that the occupants likely became incapacitated due to hypoxia.
  • On January 27, 2001, a Super King Air 200 carrying members of the Oklahoma State University Basketball Team crashed in Colorado.
  • On February 26, 2004, President of the Republic of Macedonia Boris Trajkovski was killed with eight others in the crash near Mostar. The plane was a Beechcraft Model 200 Super King Air (registered Z3-BAB) operated as a transport aircraft of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia.
  • On October 24, 2004, a Model 200 Super King Air crashed into mountainous terrain during a missed approach in Virginia. Several members of the Hendrick Motorsports team were on board and died in the crash.
  • On April 12, 2009, a privately chartered Super King Air 200 made an emergency landing by one of its passengers en route to Fort Myers, Florida after the pilot suffered a heart attack, dying instantly mid flight. The passenger, Doug White, had a licence to fly in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, but had not flown in nearly 18 years at the time and never in any aircraft similar to the King Air. The landing was later described as being perfect with no injuries and the only death being that of the pilot.
  • On October 30, 2014, aB200 King Air crashed at Wichita, Kansas; the pilot and three people on the ground were killed, six people were injured.
  • On December 22, 2015, a B200 King Air crashed at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, India. All ten occupants were killed; one person on the ground was injured.
  • On February 21, 2017, a B200 King Air struck the roof of a shopping center building and crashed just after taking off from Essendon Airport in Melbourne, Australia. All five on board were killed.
  • On July 30, 2019, a Pakistan Army King Air 350i crashed in Punjab, Pakistan killing all five aboard.
  • On September 1, 2019: A B300 King Air crashed into a resort in Calamba, Philippines. All nine occupants aboard were killed; two people on the ground were injured.
  • On July 15, 2020, B350 crashed on Mount Artos, Turkey in Turkey, killing all seven on board.

The Beechcraft Super King Air family is part of a line of twin-turboprop aircraft produced by Beechcraft. The Model 200 and Model 300 series were originally marketed as the “Super King Air” family; the “Super” designation was dropped in 1996.

Beechcraft currently offers the 250 (design. B200GT) and the larger 350i (B300) models. The 350ER (B300CER) is available to government, military and commercial customers for special mission operations such as aerial survey, air ambulance, flight inspection and surveillance.

The Super King Air family has been in continuous production since 1974, the longest production run of any civilian turboprop aircraft in its class. It outlasted all of its previous competitors; the only other pressurized multi engine turboprop utility aircraft now in production is the Piaggio P.180 Avanti.

The first flight of the Beechcraft was on October 27, 1972 and thousands of the aircraft has been built since then.

The minimum price of a new KingAir is $7,200,000 and the engine manufacturer is Pratt & Whitney of Canada and each plane is a Turboprop Twin Engine.

In confirming the Abuja crash yesterday, the Nigerian Air Force said the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Oladayo Amao, had instituted an investigative panel to determine the remote and immediate causes of the accident. While the panel has commenced its work, the next of kin and family members of the deceased Nigerian officers had been notified.

Earlier, the Chief of Air Staff is reported to have visited the scene of the accident, in company of the Defence Minister Bashir Magashi, Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika, Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Lucky Irabor, and other Service Chiefs.

Meanwhile, many Nigerians, including President Muhammadu Buhari have expressed sadness over the fatal crash.

President Buhari extended heartfelt condolences to family members, friends, colleagues, the Nigerian Air Force and all Nigerians in mourning the unfortunate loss of “the dedicated and courageous personnel who died in the line of duty”, saying further that, “while investigations into the cause of the crash are ongoing, the safety of the Nigerian airspace remains a key priority of the government.”

While not giving room to conspiracy theories, we hope the government will take a strong stand on the reason why the NAF aircraft and crew were in the air in the first place – to locate bandits and their kidnapped victims. Settling or paying ransom of huge amounts of money to criminals to release citizens is clearly not something that should be done.

A stronger message needs to be sent and the time to do it is now.

 

Epa Ogie Eboigbe, veteran journalist, broadcaster and public affairs specialist writes on, and analyses current and historical issues with a ‘wise pen’.

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