The Nigerian government has confirmed the death of two airmen who perished when a Nigerian Air Force Mi-35 helicopter crashed yesterday in the insurgency-riddled northern state of Borno while on a routine training mission.
In a brief statement to the media, the Director of Defence Information in the Nigerian Army Major General Chris Olukolade also ruled out suggestions that the aircraft could have been downed by the anti-aircraft defence systems of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which is active throughout the Borno region and neighbouring Adamawa state.
Olukolade said only one crewmember survived the crash which was caused by a technical fault while it was overflying a location south of Bama in the north-eastern state of Borno. “One of the pilots of the crashed Nigerian Air Force Mi-35 helicopter on a training mission has been recovered alive while the second one as well as the technician on board the 3-member crew flight died in the crash.”
“Investigations have been commenced to unravel the circumstances that led to the accident. Meanwhile, it is established that the crash is not as a result of any enemy action. Further details on the crash will be made known as the investigation progresses,” Olukolade said.
The restive Borno state is a hotbed of activity for the Islamist rebel group Boko Haram which has major bases and has fought government forces in the same area for more than five years now. A fighter crashed while on a reconnaissance mission in the same area last year.
Although Boko Haram is not known to possess the capability to shoot down aircraft, there are concerns that global jihadist groups like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), to which Boko Haram claims allegiance, may already possess Man Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS), which proliferated from the collapse of the Libyan state.
Global security analysts fear that AQIM may provide its main West African ally with such weapons and pose a new threat to the continued aerial superiority of the government forces in the protracted struggle against the evasive Islamist rebel movement.