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Accident report indicts Taraba ex-governor Suntai

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Danbaba Suntai

A report of an investigation into the October 2012 plane crash that resulted in the incapacitation of Danbaba Suntai and his eventual death has indicted the former Taraba State governor.
 
According to the findings released by the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) in Lagos yesterday, Suntai, who was the flying pilot at the time of the crash, was not certified, qualified and competent to fly the aircraft type.
 
Besides, the ill-fated Cessna 208B Caravan plane owned by the then governor has no record with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) or any known aircraft maintenance facility anywhere. 
 
The final report on the Suntai’s accident is one of the six the AIB released yesterday. Others reports are on the Bristow helicopter’s accident in Lagos on February 3, 2016; Dana Air plane accident at Port Harcourt on February 20, 2018; Delta Air Lines Airbus serious incident shortly after take-off from Lagos on February 13, 2018; accident involving Diamond aircraft operated by International Aviation College, Ilorin, on November 25, 2013; and the serious incident involving Gulf Stream G200 aircraft operated by Nestoil in Abuja on January 25, 2018.
 
The late Suntai, a trained pharmacist with penchant for flying, was piloting the plane with registration number 5N-BMJ, along with four aides, when it crashed near the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) depot in Yola, the Adamawa State capital.  
 
The occupants were rescued from the wreckage by locals, and taken to the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Yola and subsequently to the National Hospital, Abuja.

Suntai was later flown to a German hospital, and then to the John Hopkins University, in United States for treatment. He did not fully recover from brain injuries till he died five years later. 
 
The Chief Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer of AIB, Akin Olateru, said that from the findings thus far, the bureau could not conclusively determine the cause of the accident.

However, the investigation identified the following causal factors: “The pilot was not certified, qualified and not competent to fly the aircraft. The decision of the pilot to operate a Visual Flight Rules (VFR) flight after sunset, and inadequate oversight by the Regulatory Authority was another factor.”

According to the findings, Suntai was trained at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, and qualified to fly Cessna 172, having a total logged flying hours of 58 hours and 40 minutes. But he “had no relevant endorsement to fly Cessna Caravan 208B and did not have instrument ratings and night flight privileges.”

The investigation revealed more inaccuracies. For instance, the pilot reported an incorrect estimated time of arrival at Yola as 10:01 UTC as against the time 17:19 UTC. The pilot reported the number of persons on board as six to the control tower as against four actual persons found after the accident.

The flight was conducted after the sunset time, when Yola airport had no equipment, including lighting to operate at nightfall.

“The Control Tower was notified about 5N-BMJ departure by phone call from Jalingo after the aircraft was airborne. The bureau was unable to interview the pilot as he was flown out of the country for further medical treatment.

“The pilot had completed training and obtained a private pilot licence. The engine throttle lever was found below idle (beta) position at the crash site. The engine exhibited contact signatures to its internal components characteristics of an engine producing power at the time of impact.

“The engine did not display any indications of any pre-impact anomalies or distress that would have precluded normal engine operation.

As at the time the accident occurred, 5N-BMJ and two Bell helicopters were under the maintenance and operational control of the Ministry of Works and Transport, Taraba State Government (MWTTSG).

“MWTTSG did not have the maintenance and operational capabilities to support the operation of 5N-BMJ. There was no evidence to suggest that MWTTSG had a Permit for Non-Commercial Flight (PNCF) as required by Nig.CARs part 18.2.4 Air Transport Economic Regulations,” the report read in part.

Aviation security expert, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), described the details of the accident as ‘baffling”.

“That an aircraft would fly without record, possibly certification, and a pilot not certified, is criminal. How was it cleared to fly in the first place by the controller? What are the processes between the NCAA and the Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) for clearing aircraft to justify a flight?

“I would expect that the NCAA should share the records of certificated aircraft with the ATC to ensure that such aircraft do not endanger other flights,” Ojikutu said.

Suntai reportedly bought the crashed plane from a member of the Senate representing Kebbi, Bala Ibn Na’Allah. It was reported that the late Suntai had set up “Taraba Airline” following his purchase of an Embraer ERJ-145 jet.

Consequent upon the findings, the AIB made two recommendations. It directed the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) to take appropriate action to relocate the existing control tower at Yola airport in order to enhance the aerial view of the approach path of runway 35 from the tower.

The NCAA was also directed to ensure that all pertinent regulations with regard to the operations of the aircraft and certification of all relevant personnel and facilities of the MWTTSG are appropriately complied with.

According to Olateru, however, the purpose of an accident investigation is not to apportion blame or liability but to prevent future recurrence.

The Dana Air flight 03063, MD-83 aircraft skidded off the runway at the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, Rivers State, shortly after touchdown. Onboard were 44 passengers and five crew members.

The AIB, in its final report, stated that the accident was caused by an underestimation of the degradation of weather conditions – heavy rain, visibility and strong wind on short final and landing – and the failure by the crew to initiate a missed approach which was not consistent with the company’s Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).


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