The Nigeria navy executive Agusta 109E helicopter, which crashed yesterday killing Kaduna State Governor Patrick Yakowa, former NSA Andrew Owoye Azazi and four others, had engine failure, naval sources have said.
SaharaReporters learned that the pilot of the helicopter communicated with the control tower in Port Harcourt to report the problem before it crashed to the ground and caught fire. The chopper belonged to the Nigeria navy, but it had been placed at the exclusive service of the president in the Niger Delta region.
The navy has had three Agusta 109E helicopters. In 2007, one of them crashed due to bad weather as it approached the Owerri airport in the night, accompanying INEC election materials. Four persons died in the crash.
The other two, NN07 and NN08, which actively worked the Bayelsa airspace yesterday, were commissioned in 2009.
Sources told SaharaReporters that the choppers had been placed almost exclusively at the service of President Goodluck Jonathan and his cronies, which is the reason why they were deployed to carry VIPs to and from the Port Harcourt International Airport for a private burial event of presidential aide Oronto Douglas that had no official value.
Prior to yesterday's deadly flight, the naval choppers also carried VIPs to the funeral of President Jonathan's brother, Meni, less than two weeks ago.
At the time of the crash, the helicopter had reportedly done 10 shuttle trips between Port Harcourt and the burial place of Mr. Douglas's father in Okoroba. Landing and taking off from the soccer field of a decrepit local school in the town.
The flight was reportedly the last one, but the engine failed some ten minutes after takeoff, leading to the fatal crash.
President Jonathan, who had earlier attended an overnight “Holy Ghost Congress” at the Redeemed Church of God on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway then issued a terse statement which revealed the names of crash victims and the usual promise that a probe of the crash will be conducted.
Meanwhile, Mr. Jonathan has ordered two new luxury helicopters from the same manufacturer, AgustaWestland, the Anglo-Italian helicopter company based in Italy. The two AW 101 VIP helicopters will cost Nigeria $40 million. In 2010, Mr. Jonathan ordered three presidential jets as soon as he took office.