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Thursday, 15 March 2012 00:00  From Madu Onuorah, John Abba-Ogbodo (Abuja), Isa Abdulsalami (Jos), Kamal Tayo Oropo, Wole Shadare, Odita Sunday (Lagos) and Uzoma Nzeagwu (Awka)  News  -  National

A POLICE helicopter conveying four senior police officers in Jos, Plateau State yesterday, burst into flames mid-air and crashed, killing all occupants, including the Deputy Inspector-General of Police in charge of Operations at Force Headquarters, Mr. John Haruna.

The incident occurred at West Side in Kabong Area of Gada Biu, Jos North Local Council at about 11.30 a.m.

A statement by Force Public Relations Officer, Olusola Amore, stated: 'The Nigeria Police wishes to announce the death of DIG Haruna John, the DIG-in-charge of Operations, FHQ, Abuja; ACP (Asst. Commissioner of Police) Garba Yalwa - Pilot; CSP (Chief Superintendent of Police) Alexander Pwol-Ja, Co-pilot and Sgt. Sonatian Shirunam - orderly to the DIG.

'The tragic incident occurred at about 11.30 a.m. on Wednesday March 14, 2012 in Jos, Plateau State. The officers were on routine aerial patrol aboard a Police Helicopter before the unfortunate mishap.  The Force, in conjunction with other relevant government agencies, has since commenced investigation into the incident.

'Burial arrangements for the deceased officers will be announced after due consultation with their families.'

According to eyewitnesses, the fast-burning helicopter plummeted on the side of a building, rolled over and rested between two structures.

Security officers, including soldiers of the Special Task Force (STF), the Police, the State Security Service (SSS), Immigration, Prisons Service, Civil Defence Corps, Customs, the Fire Service and the area's youths who raced to the scene unsuccessfully tried to put out the fire by dousing the charred helicopter with water.

Eventually, they succeeded in removing the charred remains of the crash victims from the burnt helicopter.

No casualties were recorded in the buildings where the helicopter crashed.

Meanwhile, the helicopter's black box had been found and handed over to the police authorities.

But according to sources in Jos, Haruna was in Plateau State on Tuesday for a meeting of security agencies and religious leaders at the Police Officers' Mess.

Commissioner of Police, Plateau State, Mr. Emmanuel Dipo Ayeni, was yesterday at the 'A' Division Police Station in Jos to see Haruna off on the ill-fated return journey to Abuja.

Ayeni was on his way to the State Police Headquarters when the crash occurred.

Haruna served as an Assistant Superintendent of Police in Plateau State in 2004.

Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday expressed 'utmost sadness' at the 'tragic death' of the senior police officers in the helicopter crash.

Also, the Plateau government has described the death of Haruna and three others as a painful loss to the government and people of the state, especially to the peace efforts for which they died.

A statement by the State Commissioner for Information, Abraham Yiljap, stated that 'as a mark of honour, Governor Jonah Jang has postponed the meeting of the Plateau Executive Council which was about to start when news of the crash came to him.'

Presidential Spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, said in a statement that President Jonathan saw the deaths as unfortunate and 'a temporary setback' to government's efforts to guarantee security in Nigeria.

The statement stated: 'President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has received with utmost sadness the tragic news of the death of senior police officers in a helicopter crash today in Jos, Plateau State. The President described the accident as unfortunate and a temporary setback especially at this time that all security forces are making concerted efforts to guarantee security throughout the country.''

Similarly, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has expressed 'deep sorrow' over  Haruna's death.

In a statement by his media office in Abuja, Abubakar stated that Haruna was 'one of the most dedicated police officers he has ever known and admired.'

Also, Minister of Police Affairs, Navy Captain Caleb Olubolade (rtd), yesterday described Haruna's death in the helicopter crash 'as a sad and tragic loss, not only to the Nigeria Police Force, but to the nation at large.'

Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State has described as 'tragic and sorrowful' the helicopter crash which claimed Haruna's life and three others.

Uduaghan recalled Haruna's time in the Delta State Police Command, stressing that the late police officer was diligent and hard working.

Also, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State yesterday mourned the death of the police officers in the helicopter crash, describing it as 'a regrettable loss to the nation.'

He recalled his association with the late Haruna who he said served in Anambra State as Commissioner of Police, describing him as 'a fine officer who exemplified professionalism in the discharge of his duties.'

Obi stated: 'I extend my deepest sympathy and that of the government and people of Anambra State to the families of the deceased, the Inspector General of Police and the President.'

Also, Former Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro, yesterday lamented the death of Haruna, saying: 'It is a pity that a fine officer like Haruna had to die this way. I pray that God should give his family fortitude to bear the loss.'

Benue State governor, Gabriel Suswam and former governor of Lagos, Bola Tinibu also expressed condolences.

Similarly, former Commissioner of Police, Frank Odita, described Haruna as a policeman who loved the job of policing.

When reporters visited the home of Haruna's widow at Ago Palace Way, Okota, Lagos, yesterday, they were not allowed to enter the house. The Divisional Police Officer in charge of Ago Division even arrested one of them for attempting to take photographs in the neighbourhood.

In a reaction, spokesman, Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Tunji Oketunbi, said: 'We are aware of the crash and we are taking appropriate steps over the matter. We are also collaborating with the Police. We are on standby and ready to offer every possible assistance'.

Already, a team of accident investigators from the AIB has been dispatched to the crash site for preliminary investigations into the cause of the mishap, Oketunbi stated.

The AIB is statutorily charged with investigating air crashes in the country.   However, it might be constrained in this particular case if the helicopter was on surveillance or security operations while it crashed, as this would then be deemed a security matter, which only the Armed Forces could investigate.

Also, Director-General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren, told The Guardian: 'The NCAA has sent inspectors to the site of the crash to have a first-hand knowledge of what could have caused the accident. It is premature at this stage to know the cause of the accident until investigation is concluded.'

DIG John Haruna: A Profile
DEPUTY Inspector-General of Police (DIG) John Haruna was born on August 16, 1956, in Karim Lamido Local Council of Taraba State. He enlisted into the Nigeria Police on June 5, 1978 as a Cadet Inspector and rose through the ranks to become a Deputy Inspector-General of Police.  He served as Commissioner of Police in Anambra, Niger, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja and Benue State police commands.

He was promoted to the position of DIG last month by the Police Service Commission sequel to recommendation of the IGP. Haruna served as Deputy Commissioner of Police 'B' (Operations) Lagos State and Acting Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Police Command.

While in service, Haruna attended several professional courses within and outside the country.  He was at Wakefield UK for General Investigation Course, where he passed out as the best Commonwealth student.  He was also in China in 2009 and 2010 for Professional Police Leadership Trainings.

He would have been due for retirement next year.