By KENNETH EHIGIATOR & SUSAN EDEH
BAUCHI – PROVIDENCE averted what would have been a disaster, yesterday, as the aircraft conveying the Vice Presidential candidate of Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Mr. Fola Adeola, and other party chieftains to Bauchi for a campaign rally crash landed at the city’s air strip.
Other party leaders aboard the HS-125 chartered aircraft, operated by Kings Air, include National Chairman of the party, Boss Mustapha; and former National Chairman of All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, Yusuf Alli.
Vanguard gathered that goats and rams took over the runway as the aircraft, with name plate number 5BN-BNR, was about to land at about 12:00 noon.
The pilot who had, apparently reached a point of no return, crash landed the aircraft, causing it to suffer severe damage.
Consequently, Vanguard learnt, the crash land caused another chartered aircraft conveying the party’s presidential candidate, Nuhu Ribadu, and other party leaders including Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to hover in the air for about an hour to enable the air strip authorities to clear the runway.
Director of Media and Publicity of the Nuhu Ribadu Campaign Organisation, Ibrahim Modibbo, who confirmed the report, condemned the development, saying his orgainsation suspected sabotage.
He stated: “We suspect sabotage, and as a matter of urgency we call for an investigation into the immediate and remote cause of the runway invasion.
“If not for the expertise of the pilot, we would probably not be saying what we are saying today. Is it possible for President Jonathan who is also the presidential candidate of the PDP to be involved in such a situation where the runway he is to land on will be filled by rams, which could have been controlled?”
Modibbo said the Nuhu Ribadu Campaign Organisation was not asking the PDP government to do it a special favour by guaranteeing safety and security in the nation’s airports, stressing: “What we are saying is that no life is more important than the other. Before the present PDP government is booted out by the people, they should at least ensure that our airports, our roads , and our towns and villages are safe enough for everyone including our candidates and particularly during this electioneering period.”
Several calls made to the mobile phone of the General Manager, Public Affairs, of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Mr. Akin Olukunle, remained unanswered, but Director-General of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, Dr. Harold Demuren, who also confirmed the incident, praised the pilot for managing the situation.
He attributed the incident to absence of a perimeter fencing at the air strip, adding that much of the attention of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, was not on the facility, being an air strip.
Control by FAAN
The more than 60 airstrips in the country are either privately-owned and managed or controlled by state governments, with little or no control by FAAN.
Demuren, who also confirmed that the aircraft suffered severe damage, said the incident could have been averted if there had been regular patrol of the air strip by the authorities in charge to ward off unfriendly objects from the runway.
Asked why the NCAA, as the regulatory agency would allow flights into air strips, since they were lacking in navigation facilities, the NCAA boss said: “Anybody could use an air strip, it is now left for those managing the air strip to carry out regular patrol, especially when an aircraft has clearance to take off and land there.”
Demuren said that as a result of the incident, the NCAA would now insist that there was regular patrol of airstrips in the country, pending when they would be provided perimeter fencing.
Reacting to the incident, the Operation Manager of Bauchi Airstrip, Danjuma Zaka, noted that it was not the first time the airstrip would record such incident adding that the problem had persisted because of the failure of the state government to respond to such concerns.
Zaka said: “If you visit the airport frequently, you will see Okada and animals crossing the runway at will. So what can we do? I do not have the power to stop them from operating, it is only the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, that can sanction them.
Vanguard recalls that the Bauchi incident was not the first time flights would be exposed to dangers on the runway in the country, as an Air France Airbus A330 aircraft suffered serious damage at Port Harcourt International Airport in 2006, following the straying of cows onto the runway as the plane was about to land. Consequently, the aircraft crashed into the herd of cows, killing several of them in the process.