ABUJA, Nigeria – The seven employees of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) who died in a fatal plane crash in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on Sunday were close to discovering the location of dozens of students abducted by armed men from their school in the north center Nigeria last week told two senior military sources to The Daily Beast.
The crew – led by Flight Lieutenant Haruna Gadzama, the flight captain and Flight Lieutenant Henry Piyo, co-pilot – had been in Minna, the capital of Nigeria’s north-central Niger State, for several days conducting intelligence gathering missions in a concerted effort to secure release of 42 people, including 27 students. The group was abducted last Wednesday when gunmen in military uniforms raided Government Science College in Kagara, killing a student in the process.
On Sunday, officers received intelligence about the location of the abductees. According to the two military sources, they quickly flew to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja to revive their Beechcraft KingAir B350i aircraft. They were on their way back to Minna when NAF said the plane reported engine failure and crashed as it tried to return to Abuja, killing everyone on board.
“They had an idea of where the students were at the time and were preparing to investigate the area when the crash happened,”
News of the plane crash created anxiety across Nigeria and led to rumors on social media that the plane may have been affected by actors wishing to get rid of the seven officers, described by NAF in a statement as “well-trained” and “dedicated staff The country’s Chief of Air Staff Isiaka Amao on Sunday ordered an “immediate investigation” into the deaths of officers who had conducted intelligence gathering operations across the region of northern Nigeria, including the northeast, where ISIS-backed militants and Boko Haram operate.
“We must remain calm and wait for the outcome of the military investigation,” Nigerian Aviation Minister Sirika Hadi tweeted on Sunday, appearing to address rumors swirling around the cause of the crash. Nigerian authorities have often been accused of protecting armed groups affiliated with the Fulani tribe from the predominantly Muslim northern region of Nigeria, where President Muhammadu Buhari comes from. Most of the officers killed in Sunday’s plane crash were from southern Nigeria, a predominantly Christian region.
“Investigators will look into all possible causes of the crash, including foul play,” another military source told The Daily Beast. “I’m sure the new head of air personnel [who was appointed late in January] would like to get to the bottom of the matter. ”
This is not the first time that experienced NAF officers at the helm of the fight against dangerous militants are leading an investigation.
Last year, the country’s first ever female fighter helicopter pilot Tolulope Arotile was killed from the impact of a hill vehicle that crashed into her, raising suspicions throughout Nigeria that she was being murdered. According to the NAF, Arotile was “accidentally hit” by “an agitated former Air Force high school classmate while trying to greet her” inside the NAF base in the northwestern city of Kaduna. The 24-year-old had just returned from an operation, the military named “Gama Aiki” in the Niger state, where she was deployed in the fight against ISIS-backed militants and other criminal gangs, locally called “bandits” by flying combat missions. . Her last combat mission in northern Nigeria was devastating to the terrorists she targeted.
Like Arotile, the seven NAF staff killed in the crash on Sunday had been key players in the fight to liberate northern Nigeria from bandits and jihadists. According to NAF “during intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions,[the officers] had operated in virtually all theaters, including the Northeast, Northwest as well as North Center. Records show that they flew in one of NAF’s three Beechcraft King Air 350is and were undoubtedly some of the most experienced and reliable in the Air Force, saying it has been dealt a huge blow by the loss.
“NAF would find it difficult to replace staff based on their training and experience gained over the years,” Ibikunle Daramola, NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, said in a press release on behalf of Chief of Air Staff Amao on Monday. “The service was nevertheless comforted by the fact that the deceased staff gave their utmost in the service of the nation.”