The father of the Nigerian first female combat helicopter pilot, Tolulope Arotile, who died in a road traffic accident at the Nigerian Air Force Base in Kaduna on Tuesday, said he spoke with her hours before her death.
Mr Akintunde Arotile, who retired as Assistant General Manager and Power Engineer at the Transmission Company of Nigeria, told reporters in Lokoja on Wednesday, amid tears, that he called his daughter four hours before her demise.
He also said that flying aircraft had been her dream from childhood.
“From day one, she had been not just unique, but special.
“I was in Kaduna then where she schooled at the Air Force Base, starting from kindergarten, nursery and secondary schools before she proceeded to the Nigerian Defence Academy.
‘I’m going to fly it’
“Right from her childhood, she told me one day that ‘daddy, look at that aircraft, I’m going to fly it one day.’
“That was when she was in primary six.
“Even though I took it as childish talk, I said okay and amen.
“Majorly, she worked hard, got admission into NDA, studied BSC Mathematics, through there, she became an Air Force cadet student, then she was selected as part of those that would fly aircraft.
“When she was commissioned, she was sent to Enugu.
“There, she was sent to several oversea training and courses.
“I just give thanks to God that she was able to achieve her childhood dream,” he said.
“At times, I wondered the type of IQ she had.
“She used that intelligence to combine hard work to get to where she was before she died.
“Around 9pm, I called her and she said she was fine and no problem.
“Then, yesterday (Tuesday), I called her at about 1 pm, she said she was going out to the base to make a photocopy and I told her she must go back home on time because she was staying with my first daughter in Kaduna.
“Around 5.30 pm, somebody called me on phone, asking if I had called Tolu, and I said Tolu was in Kaduna.
“The person then insisted I call her again.
“I then called her line, no response, there, I called her colleagues.
“I heard all of them crying on the phone.
“I asked what was wrong with Tolu and one of her friends then told me that Tolu lifeless body was in the mortuary.
“I was shocked that somebody I spoke to five hours ago, only to be told that she is in the mortuary,” he said.
He said the date for her burial would be determined by the Air Force.
“I was given an option of whether the burial should take place in Lokoja or Abuja.
“I preferred Lokoja, but it is like her ogas are saying the Chief of Air Staff said he would prefer the National Cemetery in Abuja because the senior officers and dignitaries would want to be there,” Mr Arotile said.
Earlier in Abuja on Wednesday, NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Com. Ibikunle Daramola had stated that “Flying Officer Arotile died on July 14, 2020 at the age of 24 when she was inadvertently hit by the reversing vehicle of an excited former Air Force Secondary School classmate while trying to greet her”.
The unnamed ex-classmate was reportedly reversing the car when it hit Arotile who fell and sustained injuries on the head.
Arotile, 24, who hails from Iffe in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State, died while receiving treatments at the hospital she was taken to.
Daramola said Arotile joined the Nigerian Air Force out of passion for the job.
He said until her death, Arotile, who was commissioned into the NAF in September 2017 as a member of Nigerian Defence Academy Regular Course 64, was the first-ever female combat helicopter pilot in the Service.
He said during her short but impactful stay in the Service, Arotile, who hails from Iffe in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State, contributed significantly to the efforts to rid the north-central states of armed bandits and other criminal elements by flying several combat missions under Operation Gama Aiki in Minna, Niger State.
He said the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, on behalf officers, airmen, airwomen and civilian staff of the NAF, commiserated with Arotile’s family over the irreparable loss.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari, in a statement by his spokesman, Femi Adesina, said he received the passing of the first female combat helicopter pilot with “deep pain”.
He sympathised with the government and people of Kogi State on the loss.
Buhari, who saluted Arotile’s bravery in the field to protect the country from the onslaught of bandits and terrorists, assured that her memory will be indelible, and her efforts remembered.
Buhari recalled her deft skills in maneuvering combat helicopters, which the president had physically witnessed with pride.
Senate President Ahmad Lawan, in a statement by his spokesman, Ola Awiniyi, expressed shock and sadness over Arotile’s demise.
He said despite her brief service, Arotile left an indelible footprint as a dedicated officer and Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter pilot.
Also, First Lady Aisha Buhari described Arotile’s death as “heartbreaking”.