John Ameh, Maureen Ihua-Maduenyi, Okechukwu Nnodim and Godwin Isenyo
Details emerged on Monday on why Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo chartered a private helicopter for a trip to Kogi State last Saturday, which ended up crash-landing in Kabba.
The VP, the Minister of State for Labour, Prof. Stephen Ocheni, and 10 senior presidential officials had escaped unhurt when the AgustaWestland 139 helicopter marked 5N-CML and serial number: 31389, owned and operated by Caverton Helicopters hit the ground awkwardly and fell on its side at the Kabba Stadium in Kogi State on February 2.
Findings indicated that Osinbajo opted for the charter service because the helicopters in the Presidential Fleet were reportedly occupied that day with other functions.
Two choppers in the official fleet, said to be the “only functional ones” for now, had already been engaged to fly to presidential campaign venues in the North-East on the fateful day.
One State House official, who spoke with The PUNCH, explained that in the circumstances, the VP had to opt for the charter service to be able to carry on with the Next Level campaign activities of the Buhari administration.
“Actually, there are two functional helicopters in the Presidential Fleet. That is the information available right now. Those two choppers were already engaged on Saturday.
“For example, Mr President was away to Bauchi that same day and the two PAF choppers were engaged for that and other functions.
“It is not unusual that when the choppers are engaged and there is another equally important function to be executed, an alternative can be sought.
“This is not just about the VP, whenever there is the need for an alternative when the functional choppers are busy, this is done,” the source informed The PUNCH.
Investigations showed that the VP’s office ruled out any sabotage in the near-death experience.
“There is no use pre-empting the outcome of an investigation. However, there is no fear about any sabotage,” a presidential source told The PUNCH.
The Accident Investigation Bureau on Sunday, confirmed that it had begun investigation into the accident to ascertain what really caused it.
The AIB said investigators had been dispatched to the site of the crash in Kabba.
Caverton Helicopters, in its reaction to the development, expressed support for the investigation, saying that it would give necessary cooperation to the government agency.
Presidency backs probe of crash by AIB
When The PUNCH sought the reaction of the VP’s office to the move of the AIB, it responded that what the agency had started followed the normal protocol when a crash occurred.
Speaking with The PUNCH, the Senior Special Assistant to the VP on Media and Publicity, Mr Laolu Akande, said Osinbajo believed the investigation was the “standard procedure.”
He added, “After such an incident, the aviation authorities will do their due diligence, carry out a thorough investigation and come out with a report on what has happened.
“That is the proper thing to do and yes, they are on the right course of action.”
Findings showed that as of 2015, PAF had 10 aircraft, including four Agusta helicopters.
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They were Boeing Business Jet (Boeing 737-800 or Air Force One); one Gulfstream 550; one Gulfstream V (Gulfstream 500); two Falcons 7X; one Hawker Sidley 4000; two AgustaWestland AW 139 helicopters; and two AgustaWestland AW 101 helicopters.
However, about two of the aircraft were reportedly handed over to the Nigerian Air Force.
In 2018, the State House budgeted N1.4bn on maintenance of the presidential aircraft.
In the 2019 budget awaiting passage by the National Assembly, the maintenance of aircraft in the PAF and provision of associated services will cost over N3.6bn.
The total budget made for PAF in 2019 is N7bn.
The breakdown of the expenditure is contained in the Executive Summary of the 2019 budget, which The PUNCH obtained in Abuja.
The biggest allocation of N1.492bn is allocated for the procurement of “Navigational Equipment” for the operations of PAF.
Similarly, the Live Television and Internet services for one of the carriers, BBJ (5N-FGT), will gulp N792m.
The provision, which is tagged “ongoing,” covers the “mandatory upgrade” of the Internet and live television services. In 2018, this same sub-head cost the Presidency N200m.
For the overhaul of the engines of the PAF aircraft, there is a provision of N200.99m.
The budget does not list the number of engines to be overhauled, but a Presidential source informed The PUNCH that “the details of the budget will give the number of aircraft and the nature of the overhauling.”
However, a higher provision of N650m is made for another “upgrade of Presidential Air Fleet aircraft.”
The sub-head is also tagged as “ongoing,” an indication of a phase-by-phase spending on the upgrade to spread it across budgets.
In addition, fuelling of the aircraft will consume N450m, while N120m is provided for the construction of site for keeping of safety and security equipment.
The budget also has a separate allocation of N175.2m for the renovation of the PAF complex and hangar for the aircraft.
We thank God for sparing Osinbajo’s life – ACF
Meanwhile, the Arewa Consultative Forum said it was grateful to God for sparing Osinbajo’s life in the helicopter accident in Kabba, Kogi State, on Saturday.
The ACF’s Secretary-General, Anthony Sani, who spoke with one of our correspondents on the telephone, urged the maintenance department to ensure regular service of aircraft in the presidential fleet to ensure the safety of the President and his deputy.
He said, “We thank God. We are really grateful to God for sparing the life of our Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
“We, however, appealed to the maintenance department to ensure that our planes are serviced regularly to avoid the recurrence of such accident that may result in the death of our leaders including the President and the Vice-President.”
AIB seeks public assistance to investigate Osinbajo’s helicopter crash
Meanwhile, the AIB has asked the public to assist it by providing any video clips, relevant evidence or information as the agency investigates what led to the helicopter’s crash.
The Commissioner/Chief Executive Officer, AIB, Akin Olateru, also stated that the agency would release factual information concerning the accident in a matter of days.
Olateru was quoted in a statement by the Ministry of Transportation (Aviation) in Abuja on Monday as saying, “As the investigating agency, AlB needs and hereby solicits for your (public) help.
“We want the public to know that we would be amenable to receiving any video clip(s), relevant evidence or information any member of the public may have of the accident that can assist us with this investigation.”
He urged persons with useful information to kindly contact the agency via its official communication channels as stated on its website.
“I would like to enjoin the press and the public to please respect the privacy of the people involved and not to preempt the cause of the accident. AlB will release the preliminary report which will include factual information about the accident in a matter of days,” Olateru added.
The AIB boss said, “Accident Investigation Bureau, the agency of government created under the Civil Aviation Act 2006 with a clear mandate to investigate air accidents and serious incidents, has commenced investigation into this accident.
“I am assuring the entire public that this investigation will be detailed, thorough and timely. Accident investigation is not to apportion blame; it is about fact-finding and making safety recommendations with a view to preventing future occurrences.”