Nigerian Air Force (NAF) on Sunday ruled out foul play in the death of the country’s first female combat helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, who was knocked down by the Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) driven by an old schoolmate at the NAF Base in Kaduna.
She was 24.
Giving details of its preliminary investigation, NAF’s Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, said: “The death of Flying Officer Arotile was caused by blunt force trauma to the head and significant bleeding resulting from being struck by the vehicle.”
Daramola said NAF would have waited for the conclusion of the investigation before releasing its details but “the NAF, in sensitivity to public concerns occasioned by the spread of false information, appreciates the imperative to provide more clarity at this very difficult moment”.
He said being a civil case, the matter will be handed over to the police “with a view to further investigating and charging the suspects to court in accordance with extant laws”.
The NAF spokesman said the driver of the vehicle that killed the pilot, Mr. Nehemiah Adejoh, does not have a valid driver’s licence.
He said Adejoh will be charged to court at the end of investigations.
Daramola said: “The Nigerian Air Force, being a highly professional and disciplined organisation, will not join issues with any individuals or groups regarding the spurious allegations of ‘foul play’ espoused in some quarters. Suffice it to say that Flying Officer Arotile was a pride of the NAF in whom the service had invested massively in terms of resources, time and energy.
“Consequently, it is ludicrous for anyone to even remotely insinuate malevolent intent on the part of the service against one of its most prized assets.”
The NAF spokesman recalled how the Squadron Pilot at the 405 Helicopter Combat Training Group (405 HCTG), Enugu, attached to the Air Component of Operation Gama Aiki in Minna, Niger State, died on July 14.
“On July 14, 2020, at 10.55 a.m, the late Flying Officer Arotile received a phone call from her colleague, Flying Officer Perry Karimo, a fellow helicopter pilot from the 405 HCTG, who wanted to discuss arrangements for their return to Enugu, requesting that she comes to the Base so that they could work out the modalities.
“Subsequently, around 10.58 a.m, the late Arotile placed a call through to Squadron Leader Diepiriye Batubo, the Group Operations Officer (GOO) of 405 HCTG, who was in Minna at the time, to clarify issues regarding her deployment. It must be highlighted that the call from Flying Officer Karimo as well as the one to the Squadron Leader Batubo both took place before 11 a.m, over five hours before the incident, which led to her death,” Daramola said.
He said the NAF did all it could to save her life.
“Flying Officer Arotile was subsequently taken to the 461 NAF Hospital, Kaduna, for treatment, while Mr Folorunsho (one of the occupants of the vehicle) who is also an Accident and Emergency Nurse at the St. Gerard Catholic Hospital, Kaduna, administered first aid.
“Flying Officer Arotile was confirmed dead by the on-call doctor at the 461 NAF Hospital at 4.45 p.m on July 14, 2020, as a result of the head injuries,” he added.
Daramola urged Nigerians to avoid speculations about Arotile’s death, saying: “It is of absolute importance that the memory of this fallen hero and our precious child is not tainted by the propagation of misplaced sentiments and wild shenanigans.”