Skip to main content
September 26, 2018

Cycle of plane crashes and air of mystery around them

Former DCJ Kalpana Rawal in Kibiku Forest, Ngong, at the site of a plane crash that killed Internal Security minister George Saitoti in 2012.
Former DCJ Kalpana Rawal in Kibiku Forest, Ngong, at the site of a plane crash that killed Internal Security minister George Saitoti in 2012.

As families of the 10 victims of last month’s plane crash in the Aberdares come to terms with the loss, focus has now shifted to investigations on what led to the crash.

The preliminary report was released late last month but did not disclose the cause. It said the 5Y-CAC aircraft had been flying at a speed of 289km/h when a collision took place.

“Investigations will determine the facts, conditions and circumstances of the accident to establish the probable cause," the 11-page report stated.

Professional negligence and poor communication between the crew and air traffic controllers in Eldoret were cited as possible reasons for the June 5 crash. This has sparked blame games between the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority and the Kenya Airline Pilots Association.

Investigators have so far collected all relevant samples and exhibits for analysis to establish what caused the accident. The remaining wreckage has been handed over to the Flysax management ahead of a comprehensive technical investigation into the circumstances of this accident.

The crash evoked memories of similar tragedies in Kenya’s past. Surprisingly, most of these accidents have never been conclusively investigated and a report with recommendations tabled. 

MINISTER PLUNGES TO DEATH

In 2003, a member of the Cabinet was killed and three other ministers injured when their chartered aircraft crashed into a residential estate shortly after take-off.

Ahmed Khalif, the Labour minister in President Mwai Kibaki's three-week-old government, was confirmed among the dead.

The pilot and co-pilot of the 22-seat Gulfstream One were also killed. The plane carrying at least 10 people plunged into electricity cables at the end of the runway at Busia airstrip in western Kenya.

“It was a short runway and the plane didn't appear to get sufficient height, and it just hit the cables,” then MP Moses Wetang’ula, now Bungoma senator, said.

Then Water minister Martha Karua, Information minister Raphael Tuju and minister of state in the Vice President's office Jebii Kilimo were airlifted by military helicopters to a hospital in Nairobi.

Come 2006, leaders on a peace mission were killed in plane crash. Efforts to reconcile warring communities in Marsabit county suffered a major blow when six MPs perished in a plane crash.

It was the first time leaders of the three groups — the Borana, the Gabra and the Rendille — had agreed to sit together and come up with a comprehensive peace programme after years of hostilities.

But it was not to be as the Kenya Airforce plane carrying them crashed into a hill, killing all 14 members of the peace delegation.

The crash, which was blamed on poor visibility, left four constituencies in Marsabit without parliamentary representatives.

Those who died included deputy Opposition leader and North Horr MP Bonaya Godana, Saku MP Abdi Sasura, Laisamis MP Titus Ngoyoni, and Moyale’s Guracha Galgallo.

Others were Internal Security assistant minister Mirugi Kariuki, East Africa Legislative Assembly member Abdulahi Adan, district commissioner Peter Kingola and Kirinyaga Anglican bishop William Waqo.

In 2008, another minister died in a plane crash. Roads minister Kipkalya Kones died alongside Lorna Laboso, an assistant minister in the Vice President’s office.

The ministers died on the eve of five by-elections, two of them occasioned by the brutal killings of two ODM MPs — Embakasi’s Mugabe Were and Ainamoi’s Kimutai Too — giving the tragedy an even more ominous twist.

Kones, who doubled up as Bomet MP, and Laboso, the Sotik MP, were both on assignment to oversee the by-election in Ainamoi on behalf of their ODM party.

NO RESPITE

After nearly half a decade of calm in the airways, disaster next struck in 2012. Kenya was plunged into mourning after Internal Security minister George Saitoti and his assistant Orwa Ojodeh were killed in a helicopter crash in Ngong Forest.

The accident occurred minutes after they had taken off from Wilson Airport in a new police helicopter, heading for a fundraiser in Ojodeh’s Ndiwa constituency. Also killed were pilots Nancy Gituanja and Luke Oyugi and bodyguards Thomas Murimi and Joshua Tongei.

The inquiry into the helicopter crash indicated the aircraft supplier, Eurocopter, installed a fake component into the aircraft just a few months before the crash.

In a report handed over to President Mwai Kibaki, the commission, led by former Deputy Chief Justice Kalpana Rawal, recommended that the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority take up the matter and send a protest note to the European Aviation Safety Authority. It said Eurocopter knowingly allowed the aircraft to operate on a prototype Vehicle Engine Monitoring Device.

The commission, however, did not rule out the possibility of human error as a possible cause of the accident. Rawal said it was hard for the commission to pinpoint the exact cause of the June 10, 2012, accident.

The commission, in their final report, said they could not determine whether the cause of death was due to carbon monoxide, traumatic injuries, fire injuries or a combination of the three.

The helicopter was shipped into the country in December 2011, only to crash seven months later.

LATEST INCIDENTS

In 2016, a Sh2.2 billion police chopper crashed in Mathare.

Four officers were injured after a brand new Agusta Westland 139 police helicopter crashed in Mathare North 4 A, Nairobi.

"The plane stalled in the air for some 10 minutes before the pilot tried to go back but it crashed, " one officer said.

The incident came hours after a woman was killed and five others injured when a light aircraft burst into flames after take-off at the Naivasha airstrip.

The latest crash of a police helicopter was caused by an unqualified pilot, who failed to respond appropriately when a marabou stork flew dangerously close, investigators said.

According to investigation team, the pilot pushed the wrong lever. As a result, the aircraft lost power, stalled and created a vortex that pulled the Sh683 million chopper down. It later emerged that the purchase of the police helicopter was shrouded in controversy.

And just last year, Senator Susan Kihika's officials died after a chopper crashed in Lake Nakuru. Five people, among them members of Kihika's media team, died while heading to Jubilee’s Narok campaigns.

The chopper crashed shortly after taking off from Jarika hotel. After a month-long search in the waters, the wreckage, which was 70 per cent intact, was found 2.44km from the western end of the lake and was about 5.4m deep.

Only three of the five bodies were retrieved from the waters, with the other two never recovered.

Read: When hundreds perished in Kenya Airways disasters

Click here for the latest political news

Poll of the day