As the Nigerian Navy commences investigations into the cause of the crash of the Augusta 109 Naval Helicopter which crashed in Bayelsa State on Saturday, killing all six people on board, some revelations have raised concerns that the crash could have been avoided.
The Kaduna State Governor Patrick Yakowa, ex-National Security Adviser, Gen. Andrew Azazi (retd.); and four others died in the crash.
A senior naval officer told Punch that the helicopter was on its 15th trip for the day when the accident occurred. The aircraft had been shuttling between Okoroba and Port Harcourt, carrying guests to and fro the venue of the burial of the father of President Goodluck Jonathan’s aide, Oronto Douglas, in Okoroba.
“The helicopter was made available for the use of guests at the funeral. One thing I can say is that it was going on its 15th trip when it crashed. I cannot say whether this could affect the performance of the helicopter,” the naval source said. The source also said that investigators would also look into the possibility that the aircraft had been “overstretched” for the day.
In related news, Nigerians have questioned why a military transporter, under civil conditions, was deployed as a funeral ferry for non-military passengers. a former member of the House of Representatives, raised the same concern.
According to Premium Times, Dino Melaye, a former member of the House of Representatives, raised the same concern.“Who authorized the use of Nigerian Navy helicopter for kabukabu operation?” Mr. Melaye asked, comparing the shuttles made by the ill-fated helicopter with a city taxi runs. “Carrying non-Naval officers for a burial is not official.”
However, the Nigerian Navy, at a press conference on Monday, said that the helicopter was air- worthy. Spokesman for the Navy, Rear Admiral Emmanuel Ogbor told Punch that the crashed helicopter had more than 80 flight hours before its next scheduled routine maintenance, having covered 1, 704 flight hours. He said that the aircraft just had its last scheduled routine maintenance on November 19, 2012 and was cleared for operations on November 20, 2012 by technical support engineers. He also added that the captain in command had flown more than 800 hours, while the co-pilot had flown over 300 hours.
The Nigerian Navy also defended the use of the helicopter during the funeral of Pa Douglas, saying the naval helicopters were employed in “multi-role military operations.” These roles, it said, included surveillance, logistic support at sea, search and rescue and medical evacuation.
An accident investigating team has been set up to probe the immediate and remote cause of the crash. Members of the team include aircraft investigation specialists, Augusta Westland (the manufacturers of the aircraft) and other aviation regulatory agencies as provided for by extant regulations.
It is hoped the cause of the crash would be found soon and the results would help Nigeria avoid such fatal accidents in the future.