Moments before the United States-registered Beechcraft N364UZ suddenly lost altitude and plunged onto a tree, killing its two crew members in Kaduna last Tuesday, LEADERSHIP investigations can confirm that the British pilot, who flew the plane on test run in the company of a Nigerian engineer, duly communicated a save -our – soul (SOS) alert to the control tower before the fatal crash.
The pilot, Mr. David Sewell, and his Nigerian flight engineer, Ayuba Avong, who took off from the old Kaduna airport on a test flight of the plane brought for a major repair, had successfully informed the control tower of an abrupt failure of the turbo-prop engine as well as a shutdown of all command buttons mid-air.
The plane immediately lost altitude as a result of the engine failure and plunged onto a mango tree which was cut into two due to the impact of the crash. Less than 10 minutes after the crash, the plane burst into flames.
LEADERSHIP investigations reveal that the aircraft initially registered in Bermuda as VPBKW AAA, was flown to Dornier Aviation Nigeria Aiep (DANA), a Kaduna based indigenous small aircraft repair company, about three weeks ago, by a Shore Line International Oil Company pilot, to effect substantial repair on the ageing plane.
When contacted in Kaduna to confirm these developments, DANA management declined comments on the incident but told LEADERSHIP to patiently await the outcome of an analysis by the Accident Investigations Bureau (AIB) regarding the mishap.
All attempts to crosscheck our findings with top officials of the AIB were unsuccessful, as they insisted that it was unethical to reveal any detail ahead of commencement of laboratory analysis which could take at least one year.
The plane crashed barely three kilometres from the old Kaduna airport tarmac which it was approaching after an aborted test flight due to sudden malfunction mid-air.
In what might be a swift reaction to the distress call to the control tower supervised by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), Kaduna, personnel of the Air Force were immediately dispatched to the location identified by the British pilot. However, when they arrived, the plane had already crashed but was yet to go into flames. Armed with only guns, they battled unsuccessfully to smash any of the glass screens of the plane, even as the two flight crew had fallen into coma.
At this time, a crowd of spectators who heard the heavy bang of the crash had gathered at Barakallahu, where the plane crash-landed. Less than 10 minutes after the crash, a thick smoke began to emanate from the engine section and eventually resulted in flames which consumed the light aircraft and its two crew members.
According to several eyewitness accounts, the plane nearly crashed within the premises of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) but managed to cross over the Zaria-Lagos expressway, before crashlanding on a farm belonging to the Nigerian Air Force.
One of the eyewitnesses, Umar Muhammed, recounted how he saw the plane swinging back and forth. “Like a miracle, the plane passed over our heads and crashed on a tree and fell to the ground. I and other farmers were terrified and we hurriedly summoned courage and advanced towards the plane. We made frantic efforts to break the screens of the plane but were not successful and had to leave the venue when we noticed the plane was going to explode.
“The captain tried all he could to locate the river near the farm but he could not make it and ended up crashing on my farmland. If there was an immediate and proper rescue operation, the damage might not have been this grave. We saw the two persons through the windscreen but we could not rescue them. The military man on patrol also came and tried using the bottom of his gun to break the screen but could not. He asked us to bring an axe but before we could get one, the smoke had become unbearable, so we ran away according to instructions from the officer,” he said.