Helicopter that crashed on Salvation Road, Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos State, on Friday was about two minutes to reach its destination at Murtala Muhammed Airport, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.
Two air traffic controllers confirmed this in separate interviews with our correspondents on Friday.
This is just as the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.); national leader of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu; and Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State joined Nigerians to commiserate with the families of three crew members who died when the helicopter crashed into a fence separating two houses at 16A, Salvation Road.
The residential area was a centre of attraction on Friday, receiving a mammoth crowd that thronged the scene of the ill-fated Bell 206-3 aircraft with registration number 5N-BQW belonging to Quorum Aviation.
While the two crew members died on the spot, the survivor in a critical condition later died at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja.
An air traffic controller at the MMA, who spoke to Saturday PUNCH on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorised to comment on the incident, said the chopper took off from Port Harcourt, Rivers State and was about two minutes to reach its destination at the local wing of the airport when it crashed around 12.30pm.
The source said, “The helicopter is a Bell 206. The crew did not report any form of distress except that the pilot at some point requested to know if there was rain on the field. He was informed negative at the time. It was unfortunate that the helicopter came down just about two minutes to landing at the airport.”
Another senior ATC, who works at the Radar Section of the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency, also disclosed that the crew did not inform the Control Tower that they had any issue before the crash, lamenting that the helicopter went off the skies barely two minutes to landing.
He added, “It is sad for the aviation industry. The aircraft could not make it to the airport even though it was just about two minutes to landing.”
Two of the crew members died on the spot and their corpses taken to LASUTH Morgue while the survivor said to be a technician was rushed to the LASUTH Emergency Unit.
But the spokesperson for the Accident Investigation Bureau, Mr Tunji Oketunmbi, later confirmed to one of our correspondents that all the three crew members had died.
He said, “I can confirm to you that the third person has died.”
Rotors stopped mid-air before crash –Eyewitness
Eyewitnesses narrated moments the helicopter lost balance and began to descend uncontrollably before it eventually crashed into a wall.
A resident, who runs a laundry outfit in the neighbourhood, Essien Aniedi, told one of our correspondents that he was on his way to a customer’s house when he saw the plane hovering above.
He said the helicopter would have crash-landed in a public secondary school but it struggled on until it collapsed on the building fence – some distance away from the school.
He recalled, “I noticed that the rotors of the helicopter had stopped working and the pilot tried to manoeuvre around Opebi Senior Grammar School. He probably did not want it to crash in the school. You know SS3 pupils are currently sitting WASSCE (West African Senior School Certificate Examination). It eventually crashed on the fence and two crew members died instantly. People quickly went to the scene to rescue the third person. None of the residents was injured.”
For a tyre repairer, Seun Bucknor, it was a close shave. He said he was running an errand for his master when he noticed the helicopter lowering dangerously to the ground and struggling to fly.
He said, “I saw the helicopter falling sideways. It nearly touched my head because it was close to the ground. It was God who saved me. Few seconds after, I heard the sound of the crash.”
A septuagenarian, Mrs Comfort Awosile, whose house was close to the affected fence, said the disaster would have been monumental if the helicopter had crashed on the roof.
“The helicopter landed between my house and my daughter-in-law’s house. I was reading my Bible when the whole thing happened. I heard a loud sound that I had never heard in my life. Smoke was coming out. We thank God it did not affect anybody,” she stated.
AIB begins investigation on the crash
An investigator from the Accident Investigation Bureau, Anthony Diapyre, disclosed at the scene that the helicopter’s black box had yet to be recovered, noting that several factors could have resulted in the crash.
He said, “We have seen what has happened but we don’t have the details for now. All we know for now is the registration of the airplane and the owner is Quodrum Aviation. We are trying to recover the black box.
“Investigation will look at different situations and tell us exactly what happened. We are going to make recommendations after investigation and all stakeholders, including the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority will be involved.”
An official of the NCAA, Ahmed Abba, said the agency would implement recommendations made by AIB when the investigation of the crash was completed.
The acting coordinator for the National Emergency Management Agency, Ibrahim Farinloye, stressed the need for aircraft and marine vessels to have a ‘COSPAS SARSAT’ alert system.
He said, “This will help us to get to the scene of crime early. We are still investigating whether it has such equipment on board. We are working with aviation industries to facilitate this. There was no explosion from the crash as claimed. A resident who witnessed it said there was smoke and aviation fuel was leaking from the aircraft.”
General Manager, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Dr Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, said post-traumatic assessment would be carried out on the residents and buildings within the scene of the crash site would be subjected to material testing.
He added, “We worked with all the stakeholders and despite the fact that the incident occurred at a residential area, our operation was swift, prompt and effective.
“The wreck would be taken to the AIB premises for proper investigation. The vehicles affected would be taken to the Airport Police for proper investigation. We will also fumigate this place and ensure the safety of the people.”