Families, friends mourn NAF pilots, others, recount victims’ journeys

• Gadzama gave up studying Economics for military – Associate
• Co-pilot mourned American pilot, Boseman, in December

Friends and relatives of seven Air Force officers, who died  in a plane clash on Sunday, paid glowing tributes to them.

The  Nigeria Air Force personnel were on their way from Abuja to  Minna, Niger State to rescue abducted  students and workers of Government Science College, Kagara when their plane crashed shortly after takeoff from the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport.

According to NAF, the personnel were  Flight Lieutenant Haruna Gadzama (Captain); Flight Lieutenant Henry Piyo (Co-Pilot); Flying Officer Michael Okpara (Airborne Tactical ObservationSystem (ATOS) Specialist); Warrant Officer Bassey Etim (ATOS Specialist);Flight Sergeant Olasunkanmi Olawunmi (ATOS Specialist); Sergeant UgochukwuOluka (ATOS Specialist) and Aircraftman Adewale Johnson (Onboard Technician).

Their friends and family members took to the social media to mourn.

One of such was the tribute that Tino Tukura wrote on Facebook in honour of the captain of the ill-fated aircraft, Flight Lt. Haruna Gadzama.

Tukura disclosed that Gadzama was admitted to study Economics at the University of Jos but gave up the admission for the  regular combatant course at the Nigerian Defence Academy.

The tribute read, “Flight Lt. Haruna Chiroma Gadzama, my heart bleeds as I share this post, finding it difficult to believe you are gone too soon.

“I fondly called you ‘Harry my future Chief of Air Staff’ the peak of position l have always prayed and hoped you attain in your career.

“When you were admitted at the University of Jos to study Economics but later gave up on the study of Economics for the Regular combatant Course at the NDA and persuaded me to join you l declined and stated that you represented my interest in the military, while your political and diplomatic interests  protected in the political and international arena.

“Harry, your sudden demise is a confirmation of the saying ‘we are nothing, but pencil in the hand of the creator.’ Sleep Harry.”

Captain Gadzama kind-hearted—Cousin

Abigail Gadzama, who described the deceased as his cousin, also took to her Facebook page to mourn him.

She wrote, “Till we meet and part no more my fine brother, my favourite cozy cousin.

“You were such a kind-hearted brother with the most beautiful soul; you were always there for me; you listened to all my jargons; you always said yes to all of my complaints; always around when I needed to see you; you always listened when I needed to talk even when it didn’t make any sense.

“You showed me what love and care look like; you never blamed me for anything even when I was  wrong; you loved and cared for everyone around you till the last day I saw you.

“You were ready to make sacrifices for me. I love you brother and I still have a lot of gist for you. I will tell you all of them when I see you again.

“I just know that you are a hero and that was what we all called you now. I am praying for you as you always wanted me to. I pray you find everlasting rest and may our good God accept your beautiful soul.

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“Rest on, my Flight Lieutenant Haruna Chiroma Gadzama.”

Shonum Shamaki, who referred to the deceased as “my dear friend,” chose to ask to be joined to pray for the deceased.

The prayer read, “I commend you, my dear friend, Haruna Chiroma Gadzama, to Almighty God, and entrust you to your Creator. May you rest in the arms of the Lord who formed you from the dust of the earth.

“May holy Mary, the angels and all the saints welcome you now that you have gone forth from this life. May Christ who was crucified for you, bring you freedom and peace.

“May Christ who died for you admit you into his garden of paradise. May Christ, the true Shepherd, embrace you as one of his flock. May He forgive all your sins, and set you among those he has chosen. May you see your Redeemer face to face, and enjoy the vision of God, forever.”

A Twitter user, Lem Wamdeo, who claimed to be a cousin of the late pilot, said he died a hero.

He stated, “A very sad Sunday for me. I lost my cousin Flt. Lt. Haruna C. Gadzama, the pilot flying the plane that crashed this morning in Abuja. A young and vibrant man, his final act was heroic, he manouvred the plane not  to crash in the residential area  RIPBro. May God strengthen us.”

‘Pilot recently marked birthday at Yola in Jan’

Another user, Dawam Ishaku, said the deceased pilot recently marked his birthday in Yola.

He wrote, “Just last month, you were a year older and there was a birthday groove here in Yola. Today, you’re no more. You’ve engraved your name in Nigeria history books! Zero civilian casualty! Rest well Flt. Lt. Haruna Chiroma Gadzama. Thank you for all you did.”

A Twitter user, Simon Achi, claimed he was a coursemate of the pilot.

“Oh my God, AFSS will surely miss late Flight Lieutenant Haruna Gadzama AKA Haruna Wamdeo (The popular name he was known back then in school) very jovial, calculative and lively person. We always solved brain cracking Maths assignments of Miss Bassey together back then in school,” he wrote.

One of the housemates of the Big Brother Naija 2019, Jeff Nweke, in a post on his Twitter page, claimed to be a friend of the co-pilot, Piyo.

Whileposting a picture of the deceased, he wrote, “RIP to my brother and friend, Flight Lieutenant Piyo Piyo, who was the co-pilot on the military aircraft that crashed this morning in Abuja. My heart bleeds.”

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The Ekiti State Government, on its verified Twitter account on Monday, said the late Olawunmi, an indigene of the state, was a courageous officer.

“He was a true Nigerian hero who won the respect and admiration of both his peers and his commanding officer throughout the war against insurgency,” the state said.

Some friends of the victims also besieged their social media accounts to pay tributes to their memories.

Piyo’s last post on Instagram on December 31, 2020, was a video of the late Hollywood actor,  Chadwick Boseman, with a caption, ‘What on earth I’m I here for?’

“Piyo…your phone is switched off, why are people saying RIP…plsss God, I beg you…I beg you,” a lady, Queen Leesaah, wrote.

“You finally found your purpose! Rest on with the angels forever in our memory,” another friend, Mau_Mau_67 wrote.

Operators who maintain aircraft in Nigeria on Monday said civil aviation operations across the country were safe despite the crash of a Nigerian Air Force airplane on Sunday.

This came as residents of Bassa Village, the location where the NAF Beechcraft KingAir BB305i crashed, stated that military officials moved in around 11pm on Sunday to clear the remains of the ill-fated airplane.

Reacting to the apprehension by passengers as regards safety in air travel, the President, Association of Aircraft Maintenance Organisation, Isaac Balami, said that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and airlines had stepped up safety measures.

He said, “The continued air worthiness of any airline is the responsibility of aircraft owner or operator.

“So, I can assure you that while the NCAA is ensuring that there is full compliance with the regulations, the airlines also do not want to lose their assets or names.

“Therefore, Nigerians should keep flying because it is still the safest and fastest means of transportation.

“Aviation is a global industry and that is why you can see the fear whenever there is a crash. But there is no cause for alarm in civil aviation, I can assure you on that.”

On the activity of the military at the site of the NAF aircraft crash, Ebube Onyedi, a resident in the area, said the site was cordoned off with tapes, while security operatives guarded the area to prevent unauthorised entry.

“But we noticed that around 11pm on Sunday, they brought in trucks and started clearing the debris at the site,” he stated.

Onyedi added, “They made sure no unauthorised person came close to the site and before you knew it, they cleared the remains of the plane and moved it out of Bassa village.”

However, some persons were seen at the sight of the incident on Monday scavenging for leftovers after the military had departed the area.

Crashed plane was in Abuja to refuel –CAS

The Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Isiaka Amao, has disclosed that the Beechcraft King Air B350i which crashed  with seven crew members on Sunday, was at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, to refuel.

The NAF aircraft which was on its way to Minna, Niger State, had reported engine failure before it crashed short of the runway.

The CAS said the deceased personnel had been in Minna 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.

Speaking while receiving the Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, who paid a condolence visit to the Nigerian Air Force headquarters on Monday, Amao further said the aircraft had carried out several Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance  missions in virtually all the theatres, including the North- East, North-West as well as the North -Central regions

According to a statement by the NAF spokesman, Air Vice Marshal Ibikunle Daramola,  titled,  ‘Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, pays condolence visit to NAF, commiserates with CAS,’ Amao  thanked the minister for finding time to commiserate with the NAF on the unfortunate incident.

He said, “It  was a sad Sunday for the entire NAF family, which had lost a set of fine, well-trained, dedicated personnel, who in the course of conducting Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance  missions, had operated in virtually all theatres, including the North East, North West as well as the North Central.

“The deceased personnel, who had been in Minna for days conducting ISR missions in connection with the concerted efforts to secure the release of the students and staff abducted from the Government Science College Kagara, Niger State, had only stopped at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja to refuel before embarking on the fateful return flight to Minna, when the unfortunate incident occurred.”

While describing the incident as one of the hazards of the military profession, the CAS  lamented  that the NAF would find it difficult to replace the personnel based on their training and experience acquired over the years.

He said the service was ,nevertheless, consoled by the fact that the deceased personnel gave their utmost in service to the nation.

Tallen described the death of the seven NAF personnel as a great loss, not only to the NAF but the entire nation.

According to the minister, who was at the NAF headquarters  alongside the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Amb. Anthonia Ekpa, “the ministry of women affairs shares in this dark moment of grief.”

 The Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir  Magashi (retd.) also mourned the death of the seven Nigerian Air Force personnel who died in the crash on Sunday.

Magashi who had been to the scene of the crash with the Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika, the CAS and others, described the death of the crew as an unfortunate depletion of the national human capital asset.

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