Lagos, Abuja, Yenagoa — The panel set up by the Nigerian Navy to investigate the circumstances that led to the crash of the ill-fated Navy helicopter at Nembe, Bayelsa State, on Saturday has arrived in the state capital, Yenagoa.
Governor Seriake Dickson, while receiving the panel led by the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Dele Ezeoba, yesterday in Yenagoa, described the incident as a monumental tragedy and said that the state government would support the investigation.
The Naval Chief informed Governor Dickson that President Goodluck Jonathan had directed a detailed investigation of the helicopter crash, assuring that all necessary steps would be taken to unravel the problems that led to the incident.
Earlier yesterday, the Nigerian Navy announced the constitution of the board of inquiry in Abuja, saying that AgustaWestland, makers of the ill-fated chopper will be part of a board of investigators that will unravel the remote and immediate causes of the crash.
Chief of Training and Operations, Rear Admiral Emmanuel Ogbor, said at a media briefing that a board of inquiry was raised to investigate the crash and provide suggestions that will prevent future crashes.
He said some components of the helicopter that could assist the board to carry out its investigation had been recovered.
Admiral Ogbor said that the membership of the board of inquiry includes aircraft investigation specialists, AgustaWestland, the manufacturers of the aircraft and other aviation regulatory agencies as provided by extant regulations.
"It is expected that the board will come out with remote and immediate causes of the accident with far reaching recommendations that will forestall future occurrence," he added.
The officer said it was untrue that there was explosion before the chopper crashed. He explained that the Navy's helicopters, including the NN07, which crashed on Saturday, were properly maintained and serviced regularly, in accordance with the manufacturer's specification.
He said that the ill-fated helicopter's routine maintenance was concluded on November 10 and was cleared for operations on November 20 by certified technical support engineers.
According to him, the chopper has extra time before its next routine maintenance. "As at the time of the incident, the helicopter had flown 1,704 hours. Her last schedule routine maintenance was conducted on November 19 and was cleared for operations on November 20, by certified technical support engineer. When the aircraft crashed, it was having more than 80 flight hours before the next scheduled routine maintenance," he said.
Admiral Ogbor also argued that the pilots of the chopper were experienced. He disclosed that the captain in command (Commander M. M Daba) has flown over 800 hours while the co-pilot (Lieutenant A. O. Sowole) had flown over 300 hours.
"All our pilots are trained in the best aviation institutions all over the world. Additionally, spare parts for the helicopters are obtained directly from the manufacturers (Agusta Westland) and, or its approved maintenance centre worldwide," he said.
He said the crashed helicopter is employed in multi-military operations as force multipliers. "Such roles included surveillance, logistics support to ships at the sea, search and rescue and medical evacuation. Apart from these roles, the helicopters are also deployed in aid of civil authority in peace time. These include VIP movement and humanitarian as well as disaster relief operations. The navy deployed three of its helicopters to Central and Eastern Naval Commands in support of Niger Delta Operations," he said.
Daily Trust recalls that all six people on board the helicopter, including Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State, and ex-National Security Adviser, Gen. Andrew Azazi, died in the accident.
Others who died in the crash are Dudas Tsoho, a top politician from Kaduna; Azazi's orderly, the pilot and the co-pilot. The victims were returning from Yenagoa after attending the funeral of the father of Mr Oronto Douglas, a presidential aide.
Meanwhile an aviation expert Chris Aligbe, the CEO Belujane Konzult, yesterday cautioned those spreading rumours that Nigeria's aviation airspace isn't safe because of the Naval helicopter that crashed Saturday to desist from such unfounded allegations.
Speaking at a press conference in Lagos, Aligbe said Nigeria has arhieved a lot in the past five years in aviation safety.
He said even the International Federation of Airlines Pilots Association (IFAPA) has acknowledge that it is safe to fly through Nigerian airspace. Nigeria's airspace used to be rated one of the worst globally by IFAPA.
Aligbe noted that it is unfair for people who know nothing about aviation to go about creating unnecessary panic in the industry just to slow down the growth in the industry.
He said: "There is quite some misleading information that has gone around following the helicopter crash. Some people want to frighten Nigerians, particularly the travelling public from flying. It is not supposed to be so...There is a whole lot of different between the civil airline operation and military aviation which includes the para military first. Civil aviation has no business with military aviation globally."