Photo shows helicopter damaged in Texas, not shot down in Nigeria

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A post with two images of helicopters has been shared hundreds of times on Twitter, with claims that it shows a Nigerian army chopper being shot down by separatists in southeastern Nigeria. However, this is false. AFP Fact Check found that one of the images is of a 2009 crash in Texas while the other is a stock photo dating back to at least 2008.

“One zoo helicopter down, no flying zone has been activated still they want to try to see what we can do, we are dealing with them,” reads the tweet published on January 29, 2023.

A screenshot of the false post, taken on February 1, 2023

The account behind the post has a history of publishing content sympathetic to a Nigerian separatist group called the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its leader, Nnamdi Kanu.

Kanu is in government custody and faces trial for treason after being detained overseas and brought back to Nigeria.

The post, which has been viewed more than 11,000 times, shows two images of damaged helicopters. On the left, the helicopter is destroyed after crashing on the ground. The second shows a helicopter still in the air with smoke billowing out of it.

The caption suggests that Nigeria, referred to here as the “zoo”, sent a helicopter into a region claimed by Biafran separatists and was shot down.

A self-proclaimed Biafran spokesman, who is known for spreading misinformation and attempting to incite violence in southeastern Nigeria, recently called for a “no-fly zone” over “Biafran airspace” on January 28, 2023.

The post about a downed helicopter was shared the next day, likely in response to his tweet.

Concerns over violence and insecurity loom ahead of the election on February 25, 2023, when Nigerians will head to the polls to elect President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor, along with governors for the majority of the 36 states as well as federal and state lawmakers.

Serial disinformation spreaders

IPOB is pushing for the independence of Nigeria’s southeast.

Calls for a separate state of Biafra remain a hot-button topic in Nigeria more than half a century after secessionist leader Chukwuemeka Ojukwu declared the independence of the country’s southeast in 1967. This was followed by a brutal 30-month civil war.

Though the breakaway state has since rejoined the rest of the country, members of IPOB and those sympathetic to its cause still refer to themselves as Biafrans.

The organisation has been the subject of various debunks by AFP Fact Check.

But the claim that these images show a Nigerian government helicopter downed by Biafran separatists in southeastern Nigeria is false.

Photos unrelated to Nigeria

By searching online using a reverse image search, AFP Fact Check found the original picture of the downed helicopter in an article published on January 14, 2009, by US News Channel 10 in Amarillo, Texas.

The story was about a Black Hawk chopper crashing on the Texas A&M University campus. The article featured several photos of the incident taken by Dave McDermand, a photographer for a local newspaper. Importantly, they include the picture used in the misleading tweet.

A screenshot of the image published by News Channel 10, taken on February 1, 2023

By conducting another reverse image search, AFP Fact Check found the second image on iStock, a website that provides stock photography. The photo was uploaded on December 2, 2008, by a user named MMADIA and is captioned “emergency landing”.

A screenshot of the image from iStock, taken on February 1, 2023

This image has been used to illustrate several articles about helicopter accidents, including in Australia in 2023, Canada in 2022, and Nigeria in 2019.

Neither the Nigerian army nor the police responded to AFP Fact Check’s request for comment, but there have been no media reports about a helicopter being shot down in southeastern Nigeria.

AFP Fact Check has debunked similar claims in the past.

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