TRAGEDY

Lake Nakuru chopper crash pilot was drunk - probe report

In Summary

• The pilot of the chopper that crushed in Lake Nakuru in 2017 was drunk - a report has revealed.

• The pilot failed to recognise the loss of altitude, excessive banking to the left and the obstacle proximity from the aircraft.

The late captain Apollo Malowa.
The late captain Apollo Malowa.
Image: COURTESY

The pilot of the chopper that crushed in Lake Nakuru in 2017 killing him and four others was drunk, an investigation report has revealed.

The report released by Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia revealed that Captain Apollo Malowa was under the influence of alcohol.

"Investigation findings have revealed that the helicopter collided with the water surface due to loss of situation awareness by the pilot, who was under the influence of alcohol," the report reads.

 
 

According to the report, the pilot failed to recognise the loss of altitude, excessive banking to the left and the obstacle proximity from the aircraft.

The chopper crashed in the lake in October 2017.

Malowa, 34 years old at the time of the accident was employed by Flex Air Charters Ltd where he doubled as a director flight safety and helicopter pilot.

Other information revealed that he was initially an employee of Kenya Air force (KAF) before joining the general aviation industry.

Training records obtained from KCAA indicated that the pilot was initially trained in South Africa at Starlite Aviation Academy between May 2009 and February 2010.

All the four passengers who were part of communication team for Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika died.

 They were Antony Kipyegon, Sam Gitau, John Mapozi and Veronica Muthoni.

The chopper crashed just after 7 minutes of take off from Jarika totel.

The chopper was owned and operated by Flex Air Charters and was headed to Narok for Jubilee campaigns.

It took more than 25 days to locate and retrieve the wreckage of the helicopter and recover three bodies of the persons on board.

 
 

The search for the other two bodies on board the helicopter was unsuccessful even after it was extended for several days.

According to the report, a day before the accident, Malowa refueled the 5Y-NMJ aircraft with 350 litres of JETA-1 by Gulf Energy Ltd based at Wilson Airport.

The purpose for refueling was indicated on the receipt as travelling to Nakuru.

Further information obtained from the company indicated that the pilot was scheduled to ferry passengers from Nakuru to Mau Narok the following day for a political rally. 

According to the company’s records on flight and flight duty time, the captain had accumulated total of 24.8 hours within the last three months preceding the accident.

"In the month of August 2017, the pilot clocked a total of 14.7 hours, September, 2017 he had a total of 10.1 hours and during the month of October, 2017 he had less than 1 hour before the accident," the report read in part.

"On 20th October 2017, at 1420 hours, immediately after refueling, the pilot took-off from Wilson airport destined to Nakuru with one unknown passenger and arrived at 1500hours after landing at the Jarika hotel," said the report.

The report indicate that after landing at the hotel that evening, Malowa  first checked in to the hotel and spent less than one hour after which he was picked by unidentified car.

Another witness informed the investigation that Malowa had been spotted in company of unknown persons at a famous club in downtown Nakuru.

"The information was further collaborated with the club attendants who also informed the investigation team seeing the deceased at the club. The security guard at the hotel also informed the investigation that the deceased pilot arrived at the hotel in the morning at around 0300 hours on 21 October 2017 in company of three men and one female," the report said.

Malowa then proceeded into the helicopter which was packed outside the hotel and boarded together with three men and one female passenger.

 Shortly thereafter, Malowa started the engine, went airborne and made a few circuits before heading towards Lake Nakuru.

According to the report, tt was not immediately established what was the purpose of the flight as he never talked to anybody on arrival at the hotel.

The air operator of the helicopter also did not know the purpose of flying around the lake other than the pre-planned scheduled flight to Mau Narok which was 42km from Nakuru town.

However, rumored information at the hotel by a number of witnesses to the investigation team that the pilot had planned to fly around the lake for sightseeing before they could fly back to the hotel.

"At 0341 hours an eye witness, saw the helicopter fly at low level towards the lake. She saw the helicopter fly over the lake then it made a turn on southern end. It then made a left turn and flew back on the eastern side of the lake before it plunged into the water," the report quoted.

Though the witness immediately alerted Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) security officials nearby about what she had seen which according to her was unusual, the KWS security officials did not however confirm the incident until after more than two hours when the operator confirmed missing the helicopter which was later discovered had crashed into Lake Nakuru.

There was no information obtained by the investigation team to confirm any radio contact made by the pilot and air traffic services or the company during that flight.