Nigeria air force pilot killed in F-7Ni crash outside Abuja

China-made aircraft was preparing for display to mark October 1 independence celebrations

Nigeria’s air force said on Friday, September 28 that one of its pilots was killed in a plane crash during a rehearsal for the nation’s independence day anniversary.

Air force spokesperson Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola initially said two jets were involved in an “incident” outside the capital Abuja as they prepared for Monday’s event but added that no lives were lost.

But he added later: “It is with a heavy heart that I regretfully announce that one of the pilots who successfully ejected from one of the F-7Ni aircraft that crashed earlier today has passed on.”

In a later update, Nigerian Air Force HQ in a Facebook post said that two F-7Ni aircraft “taking part in the rehearsals for the aerial display to mark Nigeria’s 58th Independence Anniversary Celebrations were involved in an air incident.”

“The mishap necessitated the 3 pilots to eject from their aircraft, which subsequently crashed in the general area of Katamkpe Hill,” the NAF said.

One of the pilots later died “due to complications from injuries sustained upon impact on the ground,” the statement said, adding that there were no civilian casualties.

Witnesses said earlier that two jets were flying at a low altitude when one crashed into a hill at Katampe, on the outskirts of the capital.

“I saw the two jets flying together at a very low altitude. I thought it was a show of force,” said James Ogbu, a civil engineer, who lives near the scene of the crash.

“Then suddenly I saw three persons in parachutes jumping out of one of the jets while the other jet was just hovering the sky.”

“Two parachutes went to one direction while one went down straight and I saw the jet headed for the rocky hill.”

The scene was cordoned off by security agents, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

Motorists stopped their cars on the side of the road as thick smoke billowed into the sky from the burning plane. Firefighters and other relief workers helped with emergency operations.

The Chengdu J-7 is a Chinese license-built version of the Soviet-era MiG-21 interceptor. Nigeria reportedly approved the purchase of 15 of the aircraft for $251 million in 2005 – 12 fighters and three trainers, which it renamed F-7Ni and FT-7Ni respectively. Production of the type ended in 2013.

Africa’s most populous nation is a former British colony that won independence on October 1, 1960. The date is traditionally marked with a military parade and fly-past.

With reporting from AFP

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