Yenagoa — Six persons were killed yesterday when a naval helicopter in which they were travelling crashed and burst into flames in the forest of Okoroba, Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, shortly after take-off.
Among those dead in the crash were the Governor of Kaduna State, Patrick Yakowa, and former National Security Adviser, NSA, General Andrew Owoye Azazi.
The four other persons on board the ill-fated helicopter were the orderly to Azazi, Warrant Officer Kamal Mohammed; a prominent politician from Kaduna, Dauda Psokho; the pilot, identified as Commander Muritala Mohammed Daba; and co-pilot, Lt Col. Adeyemi O. Sowole.
The helicopter, a Navy Agusta, with number NN07, crashed and immediately burst into flame at about 3:30p.m.
President Goodluck Jonathan, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State and the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) were among those to first express shock over the disaster,yesterday. They condoled with the families of the victims and the people of their states.
Director of Navy Information, Commodore Kabiru Aliyu, disclosed to Sunday Vanguard,last night, that the helicopter involved in the crash was one of those being used for OPERATION PULO SHIELD in the Niger Delta area.
He also confirmed that the helicopter was carrying Very Important Personalities(VIPs) form Nembe to Port Harcourt when it crashed.
Aliyu said search and rescue operations with a combined team of the Navy, Air Force and the Army were being carried out at the time of this report for possible survivors.
The victims of the ill-fated chopper, according to a former youth president of Okoroba community, Hitler Adumion, who spoke from the scene of the crash, were burnt beyond recognition.
Adumion, who was among the first people to visit the scene of the crash, told Sunday Vanguard: "We became suspicious when we noticed a thick smoke coming from the forest and we organised a search party to trace the source and stumbled on the crash scene. Though we didn't know the identities of the victims ,the helicopter was still burning and the bodies inside burnt beyond recognition. As I am speaking with you, the machine is still burning."
The victims were said to be heading to Port Harcourt airport after attending the burial ceremony of the father to the Special Adviser to the President on Research and Documentation, Mr Oronto Douglas.
Late yesterday, Commanding Officer, Central Naval Command, Olutoye Johnson, was sighted going to Government House, Bayelsa
Further information Sunday Vanguard got in the wake of the crash suggested that the helicopter that was to convey Yakowa to Port Harcourt was still being awaited by the governor when Azazi invited him to come on board with him in the navy chopper.
Yakowa's helicopter was said to have been the one bought by the Kaduna State government for its Operation Yaki, an operation against insurgency.
It would be recalled that Azazi, as Chief of the Army Staff, COAS, escaped a Donier Air Force plane crash that occurred in Benue State, not far from Ogoja, Cross River State, killing 14 serving generals in 2006.
Azazi, a disengaged four-star general and an indigene of Peretorugbene in Ekeremor Council Area of Bayelsa State, was, last week, inaugurated as the chairman of the state's post-flood management committee by Governor Seriake Dickson.
Before his departure from his last post as NSA, Azazi stirred controversy when he said the ruling PDP and its zoning arrangement were the problem of Nigeria.
He had a distinguished military career.
For Yakowa, he was the first Christian governor of Kaduna State.
He was deputy to the then Governor Namadi Sambo before the latter was appointed Vice President in 2010 by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Yakowa contested the governorship election in Kaduna State last year and won.
President Jonathan, yesterday, expressed shock and sadness over the crash and death of Yakowa, Azazi and the other victims.
A statement by the Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to the President, Reuben Abati, said: "President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has expressed utter shock and sadness over the crash Saturday in Bayelsa State of a military helicopter resulting in the death of Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State and former National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen. Owoye Azazi (rtd), their aides, Dauda Tsoho and Warrant Officer Mohammed Kamal and the pilots, Commander Muritala Mohammed Daba and Lt. Adeyemi O. Sowole.
"The President extends deep and heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the deceased, and the governments and people of Kaduna and Bayelsa States. He describes the sudden loss of these distinguished Nigerians as extremely painful to the entire nation.
"President Jonathan has ordered an investigation into the cause(s) of the crash".
The ruling PDP also said, yesterday, that it was shocked beyond imagination at the news of the death of Yakowa and Azazi.
In a statement by the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, the party described the death as a colossal loss.
The statement read, "The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has expressed utter shock and devastating grief at the news of the death of the Executive Governor of Kaduna State, Mr. Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa and other prominent Nigerians, including the former National Security Adviser, General Owoye Azazi in a helicopter crash today.(Yesterday)
"Our great Party is shocked beyond imagination and no words can adequately give expression to the depth of our grief. What a colossal loss!"
The nation has lost a great patriot who in about two years in saddle as the Governor of Kaduna State demonstrated an unyielding capacity in wielding together varying fragile interests. He rendered quality stewardship to his people.
"Even in the face of daunting security challenges, nothing came close to compromising his iron cast resolve and faith that the phase must certainly pass. It is unfortunate that the nation has lost him at this critical curve in our national history.
THE LAST OUTING: R-L: Governor of Kaduna State, Mr. Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa (killed in yesterday air crash), Bayelsa State Governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson and Special Adviser to the President on Research Documentation and Strategy, Mr. Oronto Douglas, during the burial ceremony of the late Pa Tamunoobebara Douglas at Okoroba in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. Photo: Government House, Yenagoa.
" On behalf of the National Executive Committee and other members of the PDP, the National Chairman of our great Party, Dr. Bamanga Tukur wishes to condole with the government and the people of Kaduna State as well as the family of late Governor Yakowa on this very painful loss. Your tear is our broken heart.
" We wish to also send our heart felt condolence to the family of General Azazi as well as to the families of other Nigerians involved in the unfortunate crash. We beseech God to give them the strength to withstand this harshest sting of the painful loss of dear ones".
Gov Obi, in his response, said the crash was shocking. He described the accident as a big blow to the families of Yakowa, Azazi, as well as the people of Kaduna and States.
Meanwhile, the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) said, last night, that investigation of the crash was not within its purview and hence declined comments. The AIB spokesman, Tunji Oketunbi, in a response, said,"Please be informed that the crashed helicopter is a naval aircraft. AIB investigates only civil aircraft accidents. You may want to contact military authorities for further enquiries".