The Nigerian Air Force has explained why it deployed younger pilots to fly Ibrahim Attahiru, the late Chief of Army Staff, and other top army generals who died in a plane crash last week Friday.
Attahiru and 10 other military personnel died when a NAF Beechcraft King Air 350i crashed near the Kaduna International Airport.
Flight Lieutenants Taiwo Olufemi Asaniyi and Alfred Ayodeji Olufade were the pilot and co-pilot of the ill-fated plane.
However, some persons have questioned why senior and more experienced pilots were not asked to fly the late COAS and the three deceased army generals on the plane: Brigadier-General M.I. Abdulkadir (Chief of Staff to COAS), Brigadier-General Olatunji Olayinka (Provost Marshall of Army), Brigadier-General Abdulrahman Kuliya (Chief of Military Intelligence).
But explaining the choice of pilots, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet, the NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, said the late Asaniyi was a Flight Lieutenant with thousands of flying hours.
According to Gabkwet, the late Asaniyi and the pilot who flies the President had been flying since they were cadets at the Nigerian Defence Academy, adding that some of the Flight Lieutenants have gotten more flying hours than some senior air force officers.
He insisted that the late pilots’ qualifications and capabilities should never be called into question.
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.”
The NAF spokesperson also dismissed speculations that the aircraft in the fleet of the service were old, noting that the Beechcraft was 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.”
Gabkwet stated that an investigation into the accident had commenced in collaboration with the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), noting that due to the nature of the military plane crash, the 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.”