Two pilots died on Friday when a Bel 206B Jet Ranger helicopter with registration number; 5N-BQW, operated by an aviation logistics firm, Quorum Aviation Services, crashed into a space between two residential buildings at Number 16, Salvation Road in Opebi area of Lagos.
A third occupant of the helicopter, an engineer, sustained serious injuries and was taken to hospital.
No resident was physically affected as it crashed into an open space between the buildings, one a four storey and the other a one story building.
The dead were the pilot and co-pilot whose identities could not be immediately ascertained before press time while the third occupant was critically injured and was rushed to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH).
There were indications that the third victim, an engineer on board, later died in hospital. Officials could not confirm this at press time.
A team made up of emergency officials from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Lagos Fire Service and security agencies participated in the rescue effort.
– Where the chopper came from –
Our correspondent gathered that the chopper operated both rotary and fixed wing services.
The company secured its Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) in 2018 to engage in commercial aviation services. Quorum operates in the aviation and logistics businesses, flying customers to both onshore and off-shore designated locations, especially for the oil and gas industry and tourism.
The ill-fated chopper crashed Friday at around 12: 20pm en-route the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos from the Port Harcourt International Airport.
It was learnt that the helicopter hovered in the air for sometime before it crashed.
It was as if the pilots were desperately looking for a last-second option while trying to avoid casualties on ground, and maneuvered into the space between the two buildings, our correspondent observed.
– How residents escaped death –
Number 16, Salvation Road, where the helicopter crashed, is a densely populated residential area with some occupants in their houses at the time of the crash.
But they escaped sudden death ostensibly because the crash was not followed by an explosion.
This was attributed to the presumed dexterity of the deceased pilot, who, according to an expert privy to the incident, discharged the fuel content before crashing.
“We saw the helicopter hovering around our area and suddenly, the sound changed before it crashed into the building.
“I just heard a loud noise about five minutes later,” said an eyewitness who has a shop around Opebi.
The chopper crashed between two buildings with its wings hitting the fence which subsequently collapsed.
A Toyota Camry car with registration number; MUS 294 FT, was damaged in the process.
An elderly woman in the compound said she was reading her bible when the chopper crashed, noting that it was “least expected.”
“Unfortunately, the helicopter was between my house and my daughter-in-law’s house.
“I was reading my bible when the whole thing happened.
“I heard a big sound that I had never heard in my life.
“All I have to do is to thank God.
“My daughter-in-law was out but she later came in.
“I thank God it didn’t affect anybody.
“We thank God it didn’t land on the roof,” said the woman, Comfort Osidipe, who is in her 80’s.
– NEMA satellite track shows chopper in distress –
NEMA Lagos territorial office coordinator, Ibrahim Farinloye, said the debris of the chopper was evacuated at 4:00pm to the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) yard for commencement of investigation.
In a chat with our correspondent, Farinloye said its COSPAS-SARSAT equipment emitted distress signals on the chopper and NEMA immediately alerted all relevant agencies.
COSPAS-SARSAT is a search and rescue satellite-aided tracking system which monitors aircraft in distress.
He said based on information from the tracking system, it contacted the control tower which confirmed loss of contact with the helicopter which was on its way from Port Harcourt and requested immediate response.
The Director-General of LASEMA, Dr. Olufemi Oke-Osanyitolu, who was also at the scene of the incident, said emergency rescue workers were able to prevent a secondary incident as the crash didn’t resort to fire.
He said the area would be fumigated while the material testing of the structures would be conducted for the safety of residents.
“We assure the people of their safety as we are coming back to fumigate the entire place and conduct the material testing of the strictures,” he said.
– Accident Bureau begins investigation –
The cause of the incident was yet to be ascertained at the time of gathering this report but AIB said its investigators had recovered the black box which would aid the course of investigation.
AIB said it was notified by LASEMA at about 12:30pm and commenced investigation into the accident.
It confirmed that three passengers were on board, with two fatalities while one was hospitalized.
“As the investigating agency, AIB needs and hereby solicits for your assistance.
“We want the public to know that we will be amenable to receiving any video clip, relevant evidence, or information any member of the public may have of the accident that can assist us with this investigation.
“The bureau will appreciate that the general public and the press respect the privacy of the people involved and not assume the cause of the accident until a formal report is released,” the bureau said.
– Quorum, helicopter owners speak –
The operators of the helicopter in a statement said as soon as it received news of the accident, it promptly informed the aviation authorities including the AIB and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
“We have been made to understand that nobody in the building or in the vicinity was injured for which we are grateful.
“In accordance with aviation regulations, the AIB has taken over the investigation process.
“We hereby ask members of the public to await the outcome of the investigation,” the company said.