By Kingsley Omonobi
The seven Nigerian Air Force officers who died in last Sunday’s Beechcraft King Air B359i air crash will be buried at the National Cemetery, Lugbe, Airport Road, Abuja, today.
The Nigerian Air Force, NAF, disclosed this in Abuja yesterday.
Recall that the surveillance aircraft crash landed at Bassa village just before the runway of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, after reporting engine failure.
The late officers are Fl. Lt. Haruna Gadzama; Flight Captain, Fl. Lt. Henry Piyo (Co-Pilot); Flying Officer Micheal Okpara (Airborne Tactical Observation System Specialist); Warrant Officer Bassey Etim (ATOS Specialist); Fl. Sgt. Olasunkanmi Olawunmi (ATOS Specialist); Sgt. Ugochukwu Oluka (ATOS Specialist) and Aircraftman Adewale Johnson (Onboard Technician).
The tragic incident generated an outpouring of grief nationwide while the Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Isiaka Amao, ordered an investigation into the mishap.
The CAS said the deceased personnel, had been in Minna, Niger State, for days conducting Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance missions in connection with the efforts to secure the release of the 42 students and staff abducted from the Government Science College Kagara, Niger State.
Meanwhile, following the crash and the death of the seven young Air Force officers, tributes have continued to pour in from their family members and friend’s via different platforms.
The father of late Gadzama, who hails from Borno State, is a first class electrical engineer who retired as a wing commander in the Nigerian Air Force and was also the HOD, Electrical/Electronics Engineering, while late Henry Piyo, has an aged father, Mr Bitrus Piyo, who lives in Jos.
Piyo’s father, who hails from Plateau State, once worked as a staff of the University of Jos and later transferred to University of Ibadan, UI, is a retiree after working with the Plateau State Government. He currently lives in Jos, Plateau State.
Abbas Waziri, a fellow officer and friend to late Gadzama, described his late friend as very friendly and intelligent while alive. He said they shared the same battalion and he was also the course senior of the course in the battalion.
“Late Flight Lieutenant Ciroma Haruna Gadzama was not only a course mate to me he was also a brother. We were both air force cadets in the Air force wing of the Nigerian Defence Academy and his room was directly below mine in Charlie company” he said..
“The last time I saw Gadzama was at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport when I was travelling to Lagos some time ago. He was himself. Dashing, lively and chatty”.
“People that saw the plane crash say the pilot and the co-pilot were brave and considerate. They maneuvered the plane to not crash into people’s houses and domain”: he said.
Piyo Bernard, brother of the deceased co-pilot said on his social media page, “Woke Up with a Sad News. Just lost a very dear brother Flight Lieutenant Henry Piyo (Co-pilot) who lost his Life in the Air Force Plane Crash. Rest on Brother, you will forever be Missed”.
Members of the Ex Junior Pilot Association also took to the social media to mourn Gadzama, describing him as a jovial and hardworking officer.
They said, “We are saddened by the tragic death of Flt Lt CH Gadzama of 07 set of Air Force Secondary School Kaduna on the Sunday 21th of Febuary 2021.He was a Jovial and hardworking Officer of the Nigerian Airforce.
“Our condolence in the loss of our member. Many of us knew him personally and his personal traits were well loved. He will be missed.
“On behalf of the Ex Junior Pilot Association we extend our deepest sympathies to The NAF and his family during this period of mourning. May his Gentle soul rest in peace.”
Additionally, some coursemates of the two pilots and members of the 62 Regular Course (RC), Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), described the two officers as amicable and committed.
“Gadzy and Hyper T are gentlemen,” one of the officers prayed for the repose of their souls.
Another officer described them as amiable and thorough gentlemen, adding that they completed their flying school at Ilorin, Kwara State.
“They are friendly and even this morning I chatted with Gadzama.They will be remembered for their selfless service, discipline and dedication to the job.
“Both were very optimistic and found joy in doing what they were doing. We have lost great pilots that were always willing, able and ready to serve,” he said.
A member of their crew who was initially feared killed took to her social media status to reassure her loved ones that she was not onboard the flight.
Screenshot of her status update, which was shared online read: “I can’t pick any call right now, but I am alive. Thank you all for the calls and care. I am more scared for my life than anybody right now.
“All the seven persons that died are not strangers to me. I fly with the two captains often and the engineer ACM Johnson, is my very close godson and he’s actually in my group. He posted my picture yesterday on his status and we (were) laughing about it.
“This is an aircraft we all worked on last week. The Air Force lost seven vibrant souls on Sunday again and this time from my own household, my own home, my own happy place. The only difference is that I was not on flight today.
Maybe I would have been the one (dead). My heart is heavy.”
Flight Sergeant Olasunkanmi Olawunmi, an Airborne Tactical Observation System (ATOS) Specialist hailed from Ogotun Ekiti in Ekiti State.