OAS Helicopters, owner of the ill-fated chopper which crashed in Osun State on July 29, yesterday spoke on the incident.
The chairman of Josepdam Group of Companies, Mrs. Josephine Kuteyi; her personal assistant, Adedoyin Okubanjo; and the pilot, Arnold Catameo died in the crash.
In its first official statement, OAS Helicopters said the late Mrs. Kuteyi, who was a director in the company, was very familiar with the chopper and had flown it over 200 times.
The Managing Director, OAS Helicopters, Evarest Nnaji, said the late Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) Pastor used to fly the helicopter with registration number 5N BKA to her farm in Bacita, Kwara State.
Nnaji said: “The whole thing is a shock. As a matter of fact, one of our backbones is gone. I am actually devastated. The amiable late Pastor Kuteyi was not just an ordinary passenger, but a VIP passenger.
“She was one of our directors here in OAS Helicopters and had a reasonable degree of helicopter flight experience, as she had been flown well over 200 times in the same flight configuration in the past five years.”
The late Mrs. Kuteyi’s body was buried on August 3 at her country home in Ondo town, Ondo State, while the late Mrs. Okubanjo was laid to rest on August 5 at the Victoria Court Cemetery on Epe Express Road, Lagos.
Nnaji said: “The Philippines community in Lagos had a wake keep/mass for the late pilot, Capt. Catameo, on August 6. We are currently working with the Embassy of the Philippines on getting his remains to his family in Philippines.
“Our wholehearted sympathy goes to the bereaved families of the three victims. May their gentle souls rest in peace.”
He said the crash site was located with the help of a major mobile network provider, MTN Nigeria, which traced the deceased through their phone sims, and the concerted effort of various agencies, groups and individuals.
The MD said: “I must sincerely commend the effort and assistance rendered by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA); Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA); Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA); Osun State Government; the Fire Service; the Nigeria Police Force; MTN Nigeria; traditional rulers and the good people of Ikonifin village, the crash site, during the search and rescue operations.”
He said there was no doubt about the flight worthiness of the helicopter, which he said was manufactured in 2005, fitted with Mode 406 Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) and obtained air worthiness certificate less than two months before the crash.
Nnaji said: “The Nigeria aviation industry is highly regulated. As such, no commercial helicopter operator will be allowed to operate in the airspace with an aircraft that is not serviceable or certified flight worthy by the regulatory authorities.
“OAS Helicopters has a sound maintenance culture with experienced engineers (local and expatriate), who are type-rated on the aircraft in the company’s fleet.
“You may wish to note that the crashed aircraft just completed a periodic inspection.”
The Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) is investigating the crash.
“We’re confident they will come up with a probable cause of the accident, so that the industry can learn from it and subsequently enhance safety in general aviation, both in Nigeria and the world at large,” Nnaji added.
Confirming earlier reports, he said: “The crashed aircraft actually took off from our Maryland Heliport to Ilorin with a full tank of Jet-A1 fuel. “The aircraft fuel endurance is three hours and 10 minutes, but the flight time from Lagos (Maryland) to Ilorin Airport is about 1 hour 10 minutes. “As part of OAS safety policy, the late Pilot had enough money to buy fuel at Ilorin Airport, just in case the VIP decided to fly to some other locations.”
Nnaji said the pilot was highly experienced, had flown in the Philippines Military and had his Civil Aviation certification with over 5000 flying hours to his license on helicopters before joining OAS Helicopters.
“Catameo had the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines’ (CAAP) licenses,” he added.