• She was hit by an excited friend reversing to greet her, says NAF
• Mother devastated, forced to sleep after returning from prayer mountain to avert disaster
Nigerians, yesterday woke up to the heartrending news of the demise of the nation’s first female Combat Helicopter Pilot, 24-year-old Tolulope Arotile, after sustaining head injuries from an auto crash.
For many who were friends, relatives, professional colleagues and associates of the highflyer and trailblazer Tolulope, they were numbed to the reality despite the outpouring of tributes and condolences from wide and near and across all platforms on social media.
Born on December 13, 1995 to the family of Mr and Mrs Akintunde Arotile in Kaduna, she made history on October 15, 2019 when she was commissioned as the first combat helicopter pilot in the Nigerian Air Force following the completion of her course at the Starlite International Training Academy, South Africa.
She also held a commercial pilot license and also underwent tactical flying training on the Agusta 109 Power Attack Helicopter in Italy. Arotile was instrumental in fighting insurgency in the north, according to the Nigerian Air Force authorities.
Her cause of death sounded too bizarre to be true for the star cut down in her prime barely nine months after she was thrown up into national prominence and decorated as the first female fighter helicopter pilot the Nigerian Air Force has had in 55 years by the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Dame Pauline Tallen and the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, in October 2019.
On Tuesday evening, she was reportedly crushed by an excited friend reversing a vehicle inside the Nigerian Air Force Base, Kaduna, to exchange greetings with her. A source disclosed to The Guardian that the deceased officer went to Mami Market to print some documents and while on her way back to her quarters, a civilian classmate of Air Force Secondary School, while trying to greet her, reversed and accidentally knocked her down. The source said she died as a result of “severe head injury with massive hemorrhage.”
Another source, who prefers anonymity, also linked her death to a road accident caused by a reversing vehicle. “Her death comes as a shock to the entire armed forces, considering the giant strides and success she was recording at the battlefront. A panel has been set up to investigate the circumstances that led to her death,” the source said, adding that the deceased officer, until her death, was single and her parents are based in Kogi State.
When The Guardian visited her family house on Queen Amina Lane, GRA, Lokoja in Kogi State, a source said she was actually serving at the Enugu Base of the Air Force, but was on a two-week off to enable her write her promotion examinations when she was snatched by the cold hands of death.
The late Tolulope was to return to her base on Wednesday in Jos where she was deployed to, but that was not to be, as she transited to the great beyond on Tuesday. The deceased was second to the last of her parents with four other siblings.
The visibly traumatised Mrs Arotile could not speak with anyone, a situation a family member said made them force her to sleep. The father, Mr Arotile, was equally prevented from talking to The Guardian reporter by Air Force personnel from Enugu base. They insisted that the family would only talk when the Chief of Air Staff (CAS) arrive to pay his condolences to the family. The CAS could not make it to Lokoja as of press time yesterday.
The family house of the late flying officer in Lokoja was a mecca of sorts as sympathisers thronged in to commiserate with Tolulope’s parents.
A source told our reporter that her death was shocking, as the late officer did not even take her phone out of the office for the short trip to the market. “This is a great loss to the service. She was not killed by terrorists, but through a circumstance that was beyond human comprehension. It is hard to believe.
“Her death may not be ordinary. You can imagine that a friend who wanted to greet her was the same person who killed her. This is a great loss to the family. Her mother had been in serious prayers in the last few days as if she had a premonition that something terrible was about to happen.
“She actually slept at Orioke, (mountaintop) from Monday night to Tuesday morning. She descended at about 7:00a.m. on Tuesday, only to be told few hours later that her daughter had died. It is shocking.”
The family member, who described the late Tolulope as a humble and compassionate lady, said she never allowed her position to get into her head. “She is lovely and pleasant to be with. We are going to miss her a lot.”
The Nigerian Air Force, in a statement issued by its spokesman, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, said: “It is with great sorrow that the Nigerian Air Force regretfully announces the unfortunate demise of Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, who died July 14, 2020, as a result of head injuries sustained from a road traffic accident at NAF Base Kaduna. Arotile hailed from Iffe in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State.
“Until her death,