ABUJA, Nigeria – The seven Nigerian Air Force (NAF) employees who were killed in a fatal plane crash in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Sunday were on the verge of discovering the location of dozens of students, killed by armed men from their school were kidnapped in north-central Nigeria last week, two senior military sources told The Daily Beast.
The crew – led by flight lieutenant Haruna Gadzama, the aircraft captain, and flight lieutenant Henry Piyo, the co-pilot – had been in Minna, the capital of the Nigerian state of north-central Niger, for days, conducting concerted efforts in connection with intelligence-gathering missions to the release of 42 people, including 27 students. The group was kidnapped last Wednesday when armed men in military uniforms raided the Government Science College in Kagara, killing a student in the process.
On Sunday the officers received information about the whereabouts of the abductees. According to the two military sources, they flew quickly to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja to refuel their Beechcraft KingAir B350i plane. They were on their way back to Minna when the NAF said the plane reported an engine failure and crashed while trying to return to Abuja, killing everyone on board.
“They had an inkling of where the students were at the time and were preparing to investigate the area when the crash occurred,” one of the military sources, an NAF officer, told The Daily Beast. The source added that he believed the Air Force officers would have “been able to report the exact location of all the abductees from Kagara School” had the incident not occurred.
The news of the plane crash caused concern across Nigeria and sparked rumors on social media that the plane may have been deliberately touched by actors trying to get rid of the seven officers who the NAF declared in a statement as “well trained” and ” well educated ”. committed staff. “The country’s chief air force, Isiaka Amao, on Sunday ordered an” immediate investigation “into the deaths of officers working across the region of northern Nigeria, including the northeast, where ISIS-backed militants and Boko Haram had conducted intelligence operations .
“We should stay calm and wait for the outcome of the military investigation,” Nigerian aviation minister Sirika Hadi tweeted on Sunday, appearing to address rumors surrounding the cause of the crash. The Nigerian authorities have often been accused of protecting armed groups belonging to the Fulani tribe from the predominantly Muslim northern region of Nigeria, where President Muhammadu Buhari is from. Most of the officers killed in the plane crash on Sunday came from southern Nigeria, a predominantly Christian region.
“Investigators will investigate all possible causes of the crash, including the foul,” another military source told The Daily Beast. “I am sure that the new chief of the air force [who was appointed late in January] would want to get to the bottom of it. “
It is not the first time the deaths of seasoned NAF officers at the forefront of the fight against dangerous militants have led to an investigation.
Last year, the country’s first female attack helicopter pilot, Tolulope Arotile, was killed in the impact of a reversing vehicle that crashed into her, raising suspicions across Nigeria that she was murdered. According to the NAF, at the NAF base in the northwestern city of Kaduna, Arotile was “accidentally hit by” an excited former Air Force classmate while she was trying to greet her. “The 24-year-old had just returned from a military operation called” Gama Aiki. ” “Returned to the Nigerian state where she was deployed by flying flight against ISIS-backed militants and other criminal gangs locally known as” bandits. “Her last combat mission in northern Nigeria was devastating to the terrorists she attacked.
Like Arotile, the seven NAF workers killed in the crash on Sunday had been key players in the fight against bandits and jihadists in northern Nigeria. According to the NAF, “in the course of conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions [the officers] worked in virtually all theaters including the Northeast, Northwest, and North. “Records show that they flew in one of the three NAF Beechcraft King Air 350s and were undoubtedly among the most experienced and reliable in the Air Force that the loss dealt a severe blow.
“The NAF would find it difficult to replace the staff because of the training and experience they have acquired over the years,” said Ibikunle Daramola, director of public relations and information for the NAF, in a press release on Monday on behalf of Chief of Air Staff Amao. “The service was comforted, however, by the fact that the deceased staff were doing their best for the nation.”