AIB releases probe report on crashed police helicopter, three others
• Uncleared aircraft flies into closed Bauchi Airport
The Accident Investigation Bureau-Nigeria (AIB-N), yesterday, released preliminary findings on the Nigerian Police Bell Helicopter that crashed in Bauchi about three months ago.
According to findings, the aircraft that crash-landed with severe damage and minor injuries to the occupants flew into the Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Airport, Bauchi, after it was closed to operations.
AIB-N observed that the police helicopter, which departed Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja to Maiduguri on a Visual Flight Rules (VFR) flight plan, with a planned technical stop at Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Airport, Bauchi crashed at 19:47hrs in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC).
Various reasons were adduced for the accident of the helicopter, including a breakdown of onboard equipment and communication gaps between the crew and control towers.
The report said that before the accident, the aircraft with six souls on board; three crew members and three passengers, contacted the Abuja tower at 17:45hrs, requested for engine start to Bauchi and confirmed the flight plan for the journey.
AIB-N in its preliminary report said that at 17:50hrs, the tower cleared the aircraft to Abuja control zone boundary en route to Bauchi, not above 5,500ft and to standby lift.
It said the tower then passed prevailing wind as 110/04kts and further cleared the helicopter to lift, left turn out after lift in which the pilot responded in affirmative.
The report stated that the crew further stated that at 18:40hrs when they were en route Jos Airport, they made an attempt again to establish two-way communication with Jos tower, but proved abortive.
However, despite this, the flight continued as filed, but at 18:46hrs, the helicopter tried to establish initial contact with Bauchi tower on 124.5 MHz without response.
The report said the crew continued its failed attempt to establish two-way communication with the Jos tower every five-minute intervals until they got to the Bauchi control zone boundary, yet continued with preparations for landing with the belief that even if the tower was closed, provided the airport was illuminated, they could land.
Unfortunately, at 5NM to Bauchi, there was no sign of any lighting at the airport as the entire airport was in complete darkness.
The helicopter descended to 3,000ft and positioned itself for the runway centerline using Global Positioning System (GPS), but the pilot was able to have visual contact with the runway centerline, which he later lost due to darkness and later initiated a ‘go around.’
The report added: “During the final approach to land at the third attempt, the PM suddenly saw a tree on its flight path, which was neither detected by the GPWS nor the Terrain Awareness Warning System (TAWS). The crew verified that both systems were certified functional before the flight, also the Aural Warning (AW) did not sound and the visual display didn’t indicate that the aircraft was approaching an obstacle.
“Information available to AIB-N showed that up to 19:00hrs, there was no request for an extension from NPAW, no information from either Kano ACC or Abuja Tower about the late operation and there was also no flight plan message to Bauchi. The duty officer closed from duty at 19:00hrs.
“At about 19:47hrs, as the crew pulled up to avoid the tree, one of the main rotor blades hit the branches of the tree, while the helicopter tail rotor struck the tree, which resulted in the accident. At that moment when the skid of the helicopter had contact with the ground, Bauchi tower called 5N-MDA on the radio “Aircraft calling Bauchi tower” and the PM replied, “we are on the ground.” Bauchi Tower further asked “confirm on ground air force side? “, but the crew did not respond. The crew and passengers disembarked without injury.”
The report stated that the helicopter was substantially damaged due to the impact of the accident.
AIB-N in the report, however, gave 11 safety recommendations to the Nigerian Police Air Wing (NPAW), the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).
To NPAW, AIB-N recommended that as a non-commercial corporate aviation service operator, it must adhere to the applicable provisions of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations (Nig. CARs 2015) sub-part 8.6 on Flight Planning and Supervision, while also ensuring that its flight crew takes cognisance and adheres strictly to the operating hours of destination and alternate airfields before the commencement of flights.
Similarly, AIB-N reported a preliminary report involving United Nigeria Airlines Embraer 145LR aircraft with nationality and registration mark 5N-BWW, which was climbing out of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, when a serious incident occurred at about 4,000 feet on November 17, 2021.
Another was the preliminary report on a Max Air Boeing 737-300 aircraft, which was parked at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja with nationality and registration mark 5N-DAB and was involved in an on-ground collision with Skyway Aviation Handling Co. Plc (SAHCO) lavatory service truck with fleet number 9/5 on November 21, 2021.
The last was the preliminary report on a serious incident involving a Boeing 737-300 aircraft owned and operated by Air Peace Limited with nationality and registration mark 5N-BUQ, which occurred after take-off from Sam Mbakwe Airport, Owerri, Nigeria, enroute Lagos on November 22, 2021.