On 2nd February, 2019 at about 07:26 h, an AgustaWestland (AW139) helicopter with nationality and registration marks 5N-CML operated by Caverton Helicopters Limited departed Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos for Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, to conduct a VIP charter flight from Abuja to Okene via Kabba and return to Abuja. The positioning flight was normal and landed in Abuja at 10:00 h. The helicopter repositioned to the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF) apron for the NGR002 charter flight.
The helicopter was refuelled and the flight crew prepared for the VIP charter flight. At about an hour before the planned departure, the flight crew received the coordinates for the temporary landing sites at Kabba and Okene, and they were thus able to finalize their flight planning for the mission. In the flight plan, the estimated time of arrival to Kabba was 14:30 h.
At about 13:46 h, the helicopter departed Abuja runway 22 for Kabba, Kogi State on a VIP charter flight, call sign Nigeria 002 (NGR002). A Visual Flight Rules (VFR) Flight Plan was filed for the flight. On board were 12 persons including the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, his entourage and three crew members (Pilot, Co-pilot and an Engineer). The fuel on board was 1,270 kg. A squawk code of 1301 was assigned to NGR002 by the Air Traffic Control (ATC) for radar monitoring. The Pilot was the Pilot Flying (PF) and the Co-pilot was the Pilot Monitoring (PM).
The Flight Data Recorder (FDR) data showed that the take-off and climb out phase was normal. The helicopter levelled off at a cruising altitude of 5,000 ft above mean sea level, flying with the autopilot engaged. At 14:20 h in cruise, the Multi-Purpose Flight Recorder (MPFR) light came ON and the Crew Alerting System (CAS) displayed “FDR AND CVR FAIL”. According to the flight crew, Caverton Helicopters Quick Reference Handbook (QRH) procedure (pages 50 and 51) was accomplished. According to the QRH, the flight could continue. The helicopter was monitored on Abuja Approach Radar until 55 NM from Abuja.
The flight approached the landing area and the Pilot stated that he was able to take note of the area and the obstacles outside the landing area (spectators’ stands, football field goal posts, a car and people awaiting the arrival of the VIPs). The flight crew stated that on initial approach, they carried out the pre-landing checks which included a landing brief for a ground helipad landing and a Landing Decision Point (or committal point) of 100 ft/20 kt indicated airspeed (IAS) based on the surrounding obstacles.
Another helicopter (Bell 412) with nationality and’ registration marks 5N-PEJ operated by the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) conveyed the advance party. Before and throughout the flight, NGR002 was in radio communication with 5N-PEJ on frequency 136.1 MHz. 5N-PEJ landed outside the football field ahead of NGR002 at about 14:30 h.
The flight crew of NGR002 stated that they sighted the intended landing area as a result of the cloud of residual dust generated by the downwash of 5N-PEJ’s main rotor. The flight crew further stated that the approach was normal.
After sighting the football field, the flight crew agreed on the selected landing area. NGR002 approached with the speed of 20 kt to about a 100 ft, and entered a hover to land. At about 50 ft above ground level, a brownout set in. The flight crew lost visual contact with the ground and external surroundings. They elected to use the Instantaneous Vertical Speed Indicator (IVSI) and Radio Altimeter (RAD ALT) as references to control the descent. The Co-pilot began radio altitude callouts “35, 30, l25, 20 and 15”. After the “15” callout, neither the Co-pilot, nor the Pilot could remember making or hearing further callouts. At about 14:34 h, the helicopter experienced a hard landing on the right main landing gear and rolled over onto its right side.
The Pilot immediately shut the engines and the Co-pilot shut off the fuel. The emergency procedures, which also included switching off the battery and the generators, were carried out.
All persons on board were evacuated uninjured. The accident occurred in day time.
According to the weather report from the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), the prevailing weather at the football field was good. However, due to the brownout conditions the visibility was non-existent in the immediate vicinity of the landing area.