Nigerian Air Force Jet Crashes in Niger, Two Pilots Killed
Nigeria Air Force Alpha jet
A Nigerian Air Force Alpha jet deployed to operations in Mali Monday crashed in Niger Republic, resulting in the death of the two pilots, a statement by the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) said.
The jet was said to have crashed at 1.05 pm, 60 kilometres west of Niamey, the Nigerien capital.
The fighter jet was part of Nigeria’s air fleet engaged with an African force fighting hardline Islamists in Mali. AFP reported that a DHQ source in Niamey said it had suffered a “mechanical” problem.
“A Nigerian Air Force Alpha jet aircraft on a non-combatant mission crashed today at Dargol village…The two pilots on board the fighter jet died,” the Director of Defence Information (DDI), Brig-Gen. Chris Olukolade said in a statement.
The jet was one of four Nigerian aircraft based in Niamey under the Africa-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), DHQ said, adding that the crash was being investigated.
French and Chadian planes and US drones have used the Niamey airport as a base for their operations in Mali.
The 6,000-strong AFISMA has taken over the lead from France in supporting Mali's army in the battle against Al-Qaeda-linked extremists.
A French-led operation launched in January drove the Islamists from key cities they had seized in northern Mali. But the Islamists have turned to suicide bombings and guerrilla attacks in reclaimed territory.
But in continuation of its forces deployment to Mali, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Monday sent two Alpha jets to strengthen the ECOWAS intervention force in the West African country’s northern flank.
The fighter jets, which were authorised for combat operation by the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, took off from the domestic wing of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
The Air Component Commander, Air Vice Marshal Tayo Oguntoyinbo, led the Alpha jet team and flew to Niamey, where they will be based during the Mali operations.
The team of fighter pilots was seen off by the Chief of Training and Operations, NAF headquarters, AVM Dickson Dillimono.
Speaking before their departure, the Director of Information and Public Relations, Air Commodore Yusuf Anas, disclosed that the next deployment of Nigerian Air Force Mi-35 Helicopters from Nigeria to Mali would take place later Tuesday.
Anas also revealed that the NAF C-130 aircraft have continued to airlift Nigerian army personnel and equipment to Mali.
He said: “We went to drop our regiment personnel from Port Harcourt, Rivers State to Mali yesterday. This afternoon, we are having our Alpha jets, which will start their movement down to Mali.
“Yesterday the CAS (Bade) went to Port Harcourt to administer the movement of our own troops to Mali and today we are witnessing the Alpha jets that will be moving to Mali this afternoon.
“You will see the briefing of the team of pilots, after that they will start their aircraft and deploy straight to Mali via Niamey, Niger Republic."
The two fighter jets, NAF 455 and NAF 452 Dassault-Brguft Donnier 78 were said to have been very critical during the deployment of ECOMOG forces led by Nigeria in their push against former President Charles Taylor and his forces during the Liberian conflict.
Military sources said the jets also played a similar role in the Sierra Leonean civil war and ensured that peace was enforced at the West African country.
In the meantime, the National Human Rights Commission has visited DHQ in its quest to unravel the truth behind the Baga massacre in which between 36 and 200 people were said to have been killed and over 2,000 houses burnt, in a clash between the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) and the Boko Haram Islamic sect.
Military sources disclosed yesterday that the Chairman of NHRC, Mr. Chidi Odinkalu visited DHQ Monday as part of the commission’s investigation into the Baga incident.
He met some military senior officers behind closed doors during which fruitful discussions were held, a military source said.