Helicopter Crash Site, (Source: THISDAY)
•2 crew members, 2 others also dead •Jonathan orders probe
By Our Correspondents
It was yet another tragic event yesterday as Kaduna State Governor Patrick Yakowa and immediate-past National Security Adviser (NSA) General Andrew Azazi (rtd) died in a helicopter crash at Nembe-Okoroba area of Bayelsa State.
Six persons were said to be aboard the Navy Augusta helicopter.
The four others involved in the mishap are the governor’s aide, Dauda Tsoho and Warrant Officer Mohammed Kamal who is Azazi’s aide as well as the pilots, Commander Murtala Mohammed Daba and Lt. Adeyemi O. Sowole.
Governor Yakowa had elected to fly with Azazi in the naval helicopter while another chopper with registration number 5NBOR took all his other aides and security details to Port Harcourt.
In the meantime, President Goodluck Jonathan ordered an immediate investigation into the possible cause of the crash.
He also expressed shock and sadness over the tragic event.
A statement by the president’s spokesman, Dr. Rueben Abati, said: “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 nation.”
The helicopter was conveying the personalities who attended the burial of the father of Mr. Oronto Douglas, the President’s Special Adviser on Research and Documentation, from Bayelsa State to Port Harcourt in Rivers State.
It went down between 3.30 and 4 pm around Nembe-Okoroba area in Bayelsa State. The remains of the occupants of the helicopter have been taken to Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital.
THISDAY gathered that the chopper had barely taken off en route Port Harcourt when it crashed with a loud noise about five minutes sending up thick cloud of smoke into the skies.
One of the early arrivals at the scene of the accident, former Chairman of the Okoroba Community Development Committee (CDC), Comrade Hitler Adunion, said the helicopter had nosedived into the forest and burst into flame.
All the occupants of the aircraft were burnt beyond recognition when they arrived the scene.
Adunion said: "We sighted the chopper wobbling and crashed landed. By the time we got to the scene, it was in flame. We tried to put out the flame but it was difficult. We saw the roasted bodies of those inside."
The Navy also confirmed the crash of the helicopter last night in Abuja. A statement signed by Naval Director of Information Commodore Kabiru Aliyu said the helicopter crashed around 3.30pm.
The statement read: "A Nigerian Navy Augusta helicopter (Helo 07) crashed today Saturday 15 December 2012 at about 3:30pm around Nembe-Okoroba area in Bayelsa State.
"The helicopter was conveying some VIPs to Port Harcourt from Okoroba Village also in Bayelsa State.
"Search and rescue operation is on-going by a combined team of personnel from Joint Task Force (OPS PULO SHIELD), Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Air Force, NEMA and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps.
"Further details on the crash will be made available as received".
At the funeral service for Douglas’s father, both Yakowa and Azazi were sitting side by side with the former special adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Timi Alaibe, and Nollywood actress Rita Dominic.
Former Commissioner of Information, Strategy and Communication in the state, Chief Nathan Egba, who was there when the chopper took off a few minutes, earlier expressed sadness over the incident and said Azazi was a jovial person that cracked jokes with everyone.
The National Youth Leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria, Comrade Miriki Ebikibina, described the fatal crash as a rude shock and a big blow to democracy in Nigeria.
The Bayelsa State Governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson, was reported to have left the same burial ceremony with his hired helicopter and participated in the Chairmanship primaries of the People's Democratic Party (PDP). He was on his way to Port Harcourt before he got the news of the crash.
Also confirming the crash, the accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) said that it belonged to the Nigerian Navy. Spokesman of the agency, Tunji Oketunbi, however, noted that the Bureau does not investigate military aircraft but acknowledged that Governor Yakowa and former NSA Azazi died in the crash.
“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 enquiry,” Oketunbi said.
The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) said it does not regulate or investigate military aircraft.
In a statement, he National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said it had intensified search and possible recovery of the crashed military helicopter but the nightfall might impair the efforts of the agency.
It said, however, that by today it is expected that the wreckage of the helicopter would fully be recovered.
Meanwhile, the Kaduna State Government said arrangements for Yakowa’s burial would be announced later.
A statement signed by the Secretary to the state Government, Lawal Sumaila Abdullahi said: “The death has occurred of his Excellency The Governor of Kaduna State, Sir Patrick Yakowa (CON). He died in a navy helicopter on his way to Port Harcourt from Bayelsa State. Other details and burial arrangements will be announced later. May his gentle soul rest in perfect peace”.