Oyetunji Abioye and Jesusegun Alagbe
•Crashed Beechcraft plane newly acquired in 2015
The Nigerian Air Force has said the capability of its pilots should not be called into question despite the recent NAF plane crashes, including last Friday’s crash which killed the Chief of Army Staff Ibrahim Attahiru and 10 other military officers.
Last Friday, a NAF Beechcraft King Air 350i had crashed at the Kaduna civil airport, after the pilot diverted from the military airport due to bad weather.
It was the second time that a NAF Beechcraft King Air 350i would crash this year and was also one of the worst military plane crashes in NAF history.
Due to the severity of the crash, a cross-section of Nigerians questioned why senior and more experienced pilots, such as Squadron Leaders or Wing Commanders, were not being deployed to fly dignitaries such as the COAS and top generals.
But the NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore, Edward Gabkwet, said the flight captain who flew the ill-fated military plane, Taiwo Asaniyi, was a Flying Lieutenant with thousands of flying hours.
He said the late pilot and some of his colleagues, including the pilot who flies the President, had been flying since they were cadets at the Nigerian Defence Academy.
Gabkwet stressed that the pilots’ qualifications and capabilities should never be called into question, adding that most of them had flown more hours than even many seniors.
He said, “On people saying a senior ranking officer should have flown the Chief of Army Staff and others, people don’t know him (the captain of the crashed plane). He and the pilot flying the President are both Flight Lieutenants. He flew more hours than some of us. He had been flying since his time at the Nigerian Defence Academy. He started flying as a cadet.
“As a captain on the Beechcraft, he had flown 2,450 hours, which was in 2019. So he would have flown nothing less than 5,000 hours since his cadet days. He had been flying the COAS and other VVIPs on that same Beechcraft. He was 29 years old. Because he had an accident doesn’t mean he didn’t have experience.
“He travelled every year for retraining. Our training involves a partnership with the manufacturers of the planes. It is rigorous; it’s not something taken with levity.”
Gabkwet also debunked insinuations that the planes in the NAF fleet were old, noting that the ill-fated Beechcraft plane was one of the best in the world.
He also said the planes were bought brand new just about six years ago.
He said, “We have four Beechcraft aircraft. The Beechcraft aircraft which crashed last Friday was among those newly bought in 2015. They are easy to maintain and they are widely used even in the United States and Britain.
“The one that crashed in January was given to us by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency. So, the accident wasn’t about the aircraft. Everyone is saying the weather that day was bad. Even in Abuja, it was bad.”
The NAF spokesperson also said an investigation into the accident had commenced in collaboration with the Accident Investigation Bureau, and that information would be retrieved from the black box and control tower tapes.
Gabkwet said due to the nature of the military plane crash, its report would be made available to the public when concluded.
He said, “The AIB said they had found the black box. But as for the time frame for the investigation, maybe I’ll find out and get back to you. Definitely, there will be a time frame. The bottom line is this: as soon as we are ready, we are going to have a joint press briefing and nothing will be hidden. Of course, you know why this latest crash is very important.
“Air accidents and their investigations are essentially to find out what caused the accidents so as to take lessons to avert similar occurrences in the future. We don’t have to massage any ego at all. If you look at it from that angle, you will know that it is painstakingly and carefully done.
“Some Nigerians have been saying we didn’t come out with the reports on past accidents. But military investigations regarding plane crashes won’t necessarily let the public know what happened because the outcomes have implications on operations, the morale of the pilots, and so many other things.
“However, on the latest accident, we have assured the public that we will let them know the outcome of the investigation so we can all take lessons from there and prevent future crashes.”