by Isi Esene
There are indications that the Augusta 109 Naval Helicopter which crashed in Bayelsa State on Saturday killing six people was on its fifteenth trip of the day.
According to sources, the helicopter had been shuttling between Okoroba and Port Harcourt, Rivers State, carrying guests to and fro the venue of the burial of the father of President Goodluck Jonathan’s aide, Oronto Douglas, in Okoroba.
Patrick Yakowa, the Kaduna State governor, Gen. Andrew Azazi (retd.), the former National Security Adviser (NSA) and four others died in the crash.
A source said, “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.”
Addressing doubts expressed by observers over the airworthiness of the aircraft, the Nigerian Navy had at a press conference on Monday said the helicopter was airworthy.
The Navy, through its spokesman, Rear Admiral Emmanuel Ogbor, reportedly said the crashed helicopter had more than 80 flight hours before its next scheduled routine maintenance.
According to Ogbor, “When the aircraft crashed, it was having more than 80 flight hours before the next scheduled routine maintenance.”
He added that the captain in command had flown more than 800 hours, while the co-pilots had flown over 300 hours.
“The Nigerian Navy will not want to pre-empt the findings of the investigations. All our pilots are trained in the best aviation institutions all over the world.
“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,” he explained.
The Nigerian Navy has 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.