'We hope to get our pilots alive,' Nigerian air force says, as military plane disappears from radar
(CNN)The Nigerian air force says it has yet to establish the whereabouts of a military plane that disappeared off the radar Wednesday evening near Borno -- an insurgency troubled state in the country's northeast region.
A Nigerian air force spokesman told CNN Thursday afternoon that the fighter jet had been deployed to provide air support to ground troops, who were under fire from Boko Haram fighters before radar contact was lost.
"We don't know if there is a crash yet. We remain very hopeful that we will get our pilots alive ... we are very optimistic about that, but at the moment we can't say what has happened to the aircraft," said Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet.
Gabkwet did not immediately confirm how many airmen were on board the aircraft. He, however, told CNN that the missing plane was not the only fighter jet on routine operation at the time of its disappearance.
"We had two other aircraft within the vicinity, so it's strange to us that it went missing," he said.
"The aircraft disappeared from radar at about 5:08 p.m on Wednesday -- in an area that's barely 80km out of Borno State. It was on a mission to give fire cover to our troops who were coming under intense fire from Boko Haram insurgents," Gabkwet added.
The incident came just over a month after an aircraft belonging to the Nigerian air force crashed after take-off from Abuja -- killing everyone on board. The plane was on a mission to rescue kidnapped schoolchildren in Niger State, northwest Nigeria, the then spokesman for the air force told CNN.
Speaking on efforts to trace the missing plane, Gabkwet said the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Oladayo Amao, had arrived at Maiduguri, the Borno capital -- where he "was briefed on ongoing search and rescue efforts in connection with the missing Alpha Jet aircraft."
Boko Haram has increased attacks against the Nigerian military as it tries to regain control of lost territories in pockets of Nigeria's northeast. Frequent air raids by the Nigerian military have continued to rattle the insurgents -- dislodging them from their hideouts.