Military steps up search for missing jet

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A Nigerian Air Force Alpha jet on an operation against the militant group, Boko Haram, has been declared missing.

The Director of Defence Information, Maj.-Gen. Chris Olukolade, in an electronic mail on Sunday, said the jet, marked NAF 466, disappeared from the radar on Friday.

Olukolade explained that the plane with only two crew members on board “left Yola at about 10:45am on September12, 2014 on a routine operational mission and was expected back by 12 noon same day.

“Since then, all efforts to establish contact with the aircraft have not yielded any positive result.”

He however stated that search and rescue efforts were ongoing to establish contact with the crew

It was, however, gathered that the defence authorities had reached out to neighbouring countries like Cameroun, Niger and Chad, for any information that could lead to the whereabouts of the jet.

Sources said that the military had deployed some jets, including Mi35 helicopter gunships, in the route taken by the missing aircraft as part of the search.

But shortly after Olukolade broke the news, speculations rose that the jet might have either been hijacked or shot down by the insurgents who are believed to have anti-aircraft guns.

Some who believe that the jet was hijacked were quick to point to the collapse of a building belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Ikotun, Lagos on Friday.

The Founder and General Overseer of the SCOAN, T. B. Joshua, had during a service on Sunday morning, claimed that Boko Haram attacked the six-storey building with a mysterious jet.

He buttresed his claim by showing his congregation, the chronology of events shortly before and after the attack as captured by CCTV.

Joshua said, “There was a jet hovering over the mountain where I had just left…They said it was hovering at a close range and before I knew it, I received a phone call that the same jet was hovering over the building, passing around the building four times at a very close range before it collapsed.”

An eyewitness said that she sighted a military jet at about 11.45 am around Egbeda in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos State on Friday.

The witness said the plane flew so low and hovered around the area for a long time before it disappeared.

She said the aircraft was green in colour and was also sighted around Iyana Ipaja market at about 12 noon.

“We first thought the plane was about to crash because it was making so much noise and flying too low but later we concluded that since it was in military colour, it was probably on surveillance, knowing there are security challenges in the country,” she explained.

A top security source told our correspondent that the military leadership had also contacted hunters in Adamawa and Borno states, which were the two areas of operations covered by the fighter jet.

“Efforts are on to unravel the issue of the missing planes; you won’t expect the authorities to go to sleep over such sensitive issue.

“The Air Force has carried out such flights from Borno to Adamawa with the Alpha Jet and even helicopters, but has not found any wreckage.

“You know, in this kind of situation, there are other possibilities; the authorities contacted our neighbours in case they have any report of a crash somewhere.

“Efforts are also being made within the country to contact the locals, especially the hunters in the search for the plane.

“On the issue of the pilots, what I can say is that these are very experienced personnel of the Air Force.

“There is no doubt about their commitment and integrity; these people have been involved in this operation since the counter terrorism operation started.

“These are very good hands; in fact, they are authorities in the handling of this machine. So you don’t start to cast doubts on people because this has happened. It is a fact that these things happen from time to time.

“So nobody is even considering the possibility that the aircraft could have been flown away, that is no option.

“You know that the movement of a jet is very fast; it is not like a normal aircraft; the Adamawa, Borno axis would not take the crew a long time to cover; you can take a look at the time of its deployment and the time it was expected back to base which was one hour thirty minutes.

“Efforts are on to locate it. But that is not to say that the Air Force would not respond if a need for air support operation comes up now…

“In the Air Force, there are so many people who are good; nobody is indispensable; If there is any need for the services of the Air Force, the response will come.”

But the Aviation authorities said in Abuja that they were not aware that any aircraft hovered around Egbeda before the collapse of the SCOAN six storey building.

The Coordinating General Manager (Public Affairs) of Aviation parastatals, Yakubu Dati, said in Abuja on Sunday, said, “I am not aware of the aircraft. Each aircraft is run by an operator. If anyone has information on the operator, they should mention it. It is from there that we can take it up.”

A senior military officer who confided in our correspondent on the condition of anonymity, said that all NAF helicopters were painted in military colour and were easily identifiable.

The source said that no air force helicopter was in operation in the Lagos axis on Friday when the building collapsed.

The source wondered how a building could collapse if a helicopter hovered above or around it.

“All our helicopters are painted in our colours; by the way we don’t have any helicopter in operation in Lagos. I think the man (Joshua) should stop whipping up sentiments unnecessarily. By the way, even if a helicopter flew over a building, will that make it to collapse?

“The man said while showing the footages that there were no signs of attack. Is there a journalist who does not know the colour of a military aircraft?

“Is it today that buildings have been collapsing in Lagos. When you use sub-standard materials, buildings will surely collapse.”

But a top official of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency said the plane that was seen hovering around Egbeda was on a special training of some Air Force personnel on the use of a newly acquired landing equipment called Instrument Landing System.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity explained, “I wonder why people just say what they don’t know. When I heard that a mysterious helicopter was hovering over Synagogue church building, I just laughed. It was actually an Air Force helicopter that was undergoing a special training that hovered around that area several times on Friday morning till some minutes before noon.

“The Air Force personnel were being trained on our new equipment called ILS. We deployed the plane in the Ikotun-Egbe area because there was no much traffic there that time. The aircraft did not hover around Synagogue church building alone. It was around the entire area.”

Adamawa State Acting Governor Ahmadu Fintiri has however sympathised with NAF over the missing jet.

Fintiri, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Solomon Kumangar, said the prayer of Adamawa people was for the safe return of the crew to their families.

There were however strong indications in Yola on Sunday evening that the missing Jet crashed in Lala, Gombi LGA.

An Air Force source said the plane was found through the help ofsome villagers.

The Air Force has since September 1, 2014 deployed its fighter jets in Borno and Adamawa states against the insurgents.

The jets’ pounding of towns such as Bama, Gulak and Gwoza, which were seized by Boko Haram, had assisted in incapacitating the insurgents.

The military had on July 21, 2014 said that a NAF Mi-35 helicopter crashed while “on a training mission.”

The helicopter’s co-pilot, Flight Lt. N. M Halilu, and the technician, Warrant Officer Augustine Nwanonenyi, survived the crash, while the pilot, Flight Lt. Onyeka Nwakile, died in the accident.

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