A ROYAL Air Force, RAF, spy plane sent to join the international hunt for schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants has broken down on the way. The Sentinel R1 was forced to divert to Senegal with a “technical issue” and will be grounded until repairs have been completed.
The unexpected delay is a repeat of last year’s embarrassment for the UK Ministry of Defence when a C-17 transporter sent to help French troops in Mali was also temporarily grounded by technical trouble. David Cameron offered the Sentinel to the Nigerian government to use its advanced ground scanning radar to hunt for more than 200 school girls abducted from a school hostel last month.
The modified executive business jet left RAF Waddington on Sunday bound for its new base in Accra in Ghana, where it will be stationed while flying across northern Nigeria. However, the crew reported technical problems midway through the flight. An RAF source said: “We had a choice of turning around and coming home, or landing en route.” It was unclear last night when the jet would be able to resume its flight and travel the remaining 1,300 miles to Accra.
The RAF has lost more than 8,000 airmen in defence cuts since 2010, while having to keep aircraft flying in operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. A recent air safety watchdog report warned the cuts and a shortage of skilled technicians were increasing the risk of accidents.
The captives are believed to have been driven into the nearby Sambisa Forest, and there are unconfirmed reports some have been forced to marry militant fighters in mass weddings and others have been smuggled across the border to Cameroon. Nigeria’s military says near-daily aerial bombardments of the forest that began in mid-January were stopped to avoid accidentally hitting the girls.