Boko Haram: Two pilots, three naval officers die in helicopter crash

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…Akwa Ibom acquires three aircraft for Ibom Airline***

Five crew members, made up of two pilots and three personnel of the Nigerian Air Force, have been confirmed dead in the military helicopter crash which occurred in Damasak, Borno State, on Wednesday.

The victims were identified as Flight Lieutenant Perowei Jacob, the pilot in command; Flight Lieutenant Kaltho Kilyofas, the co-pilot; Sergeant Auwal Ibrahim, a flight technician; Lance Corporal Adamu Nura, a gunner; and Aircraft Man Meshack Ishmael, also a gunner.

The five crew members were on board the NAF Mi-35M helicopter, providing air support to troops of 145 Battalion, Damasak in Borno State, when the crash occurred around 7.30pm on Wednesday.

An attack helicopter had first been reportedly lost in combat at Damasak in Northern Borno State.

Northern Borno is a vulnerable and Boko Haram-attack area where the Islamic State of West African Province fighters had attempted to overrun military bases recently, with attacks on Metele on November 18, 2018, Buni Gari in early December 2018, and Baga in the latest invasion on December 26 and 27, 2018.

The air force acquired and inducted two Mi-35M attack helicopters from Russia in February 2017, which it deployed in the North-East to complement the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency.

On Thursday, our correspondent learnt that the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, went to Maiduguri over the aircraft crash and met with the Air Task Force of Operation Lafiya Dole.

The air chief also received the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, in Maiduguri, over the air crash.

The NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, said on Thursday that the remains of the deceased personnel had been recovered and deposited in a morgue in Maiduguri.

He said, “These gallant fallen heroes made the supreme sacrifice in the service of our fatherland, for which the NAF, and indeed the entire nation, owe them an unending debt of gratitude. The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, commiserates with the families.”

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday condoled with the Nigerian Air Force and the families of the five persons who died in the military helicopter.

“The President mourns Flight Lieutenant Perowei Jacob (Pilot in Command); Flight Lieutenant Kaltho Paul Kilyofas (Co-Pilot); Sergeant Auwal Ibrahim (Flight Technician); Lance Corporal Adamu Nura (Gunner); and Aircraftman Meshack Ishmael (Gunner), who died in the mishap,” a statement by the Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, read.

In the meantime, Akwa Ibom State Government said on Thursday that it had acquired three aircraft to its fleets of Ibom Airline Company.

The State Commissioner for Special Duties and Aviation Development, Mr Akan Okon, who disclosed this at the New Year chat with newsmen in Uyo, said the airline would be run as a limited liability company.

According to him, the airline has the capacity to generate 400 direct and indirect jobs for the teaming unemployed youth in the state.

“Ibom Air has come to stay. I am happy to tell you that we have completed recruitment with a good number of Akwa Ibom children. The chief pilot is from Akwa Ibom.

“Three aircraft are secure and are ready for commencement of operation. It is completely owned and operated by the Akwa Ibom State Government and it will provide 400 direct and indirect jobs,” Okon added.

Okon pointed out that though the airline was exclusively owned by the Akwa Ibom State Government, its management and operations would completely align professionally with world best practices.

He said members of staff of the new airline, who were recruited strictly on merit, were currently undergoing training in their various areas of specialities and added that they were getting set to start operations as soon as all formalities were concluded.

Okon lauded the State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, for the successes so far recorded and the Director of Air Worthiness at the Nigerian Aviation Authority, Ita Awak.

He specifically thanked Awak, who is a member of the All Progressives Congress, for his role in ensuring ease of operations and the actualisation of the purpose for which Ibom Airport was established.

“Some Akwa Ibom sons in positions of authority have been supportive; prominent among them is the Director of Air Worthiness, Ita Awak, who has worked so hard to ensure that the MRO becomes a reality,” Okon said.

The commissioner explained that the heavy traffic in Akwa Ibom airport had made it imperative for the state government to join the few airlines operating therein, saying that Ibom Airline would at the moment operate within Uyo-Lagos-Abuja routes.

He stated that the current administration was working to improve the standard of the airport with the ongoing second runway, new taxiway, a power sub-station, new commercial building and other unique features.

He explained that such  an improvement made it possible for the landing of over 20 aircraft in the President’s entourage during the flag-off of the APC presidential campaign for the South-South region in Akwa Ibom.

The Citizen