The bodies of Roads Minister Kipkalya Kones and Assistant Home Affairs Minister Lorna Laboso are wheeled away after they arrived at Nairobi's Wilson airport, Wednesday, June 11, 2008 after being recovered from a crash scene.
Yesterday, transport minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere released a statement that said initial investigations into Tuesday's tragic plane crash in which Roads Minister Kipkalya Kones and Home Affairs Assistant Minister Lorna Laboso died reveal that the aircraft was flying in POOR VISIBILITY at the time of the accident. The minister was in effect implying that the pilot could not ‘see’ where he was flying to.While I do not want to speculate nor claim to be an aviation expert myself, but any frequent flyer knows that many aircraft take off, fly and land in the darkest of the night when visibility is NIL and yet they do NOT crash.
Through the same statement, the minister also informed the public that investigators on the ground had established that the aircraft LOST HEIGHT and hit trees and a roof of a house before crashing. The minister’s went to say preliminary investigations had also indicated that the German pilot flying the aircraft was fairly new in the country and might not have mastered the terrain.
Aircrafts have sophisticated instrumentation and communication gadgetry on board that provides the pilot with necessary navigational information. What the hell, some aircraft fly on auto-pilot, that is with minimum human input! Again, aircraft are not manufactured to fly in low altitudes unless they have technical faults. It seems to me that the ill fated light Cessna 210 aircraft registration 5Y-BVE operated by Skytraders Limited had SERIOUS TECHNICAL PROBLEMS for it to fly low and hit trees.
Interestingly, it has been widely reported that the ‘inexperienced’ pilot radioed the control tower hardly 30 minutes into the flight to report unspecified technical problems then lost contact. If this is correct, then definitely the minister’s statement is not only premature but also widely off the mark.
Even before ascertaining the cause of the communication breakdown; somebody in Wilson Airport made an early decision to send a search and rescue team. The pilot had reported technical problems but had not sent a mayday distress signal. The million dollar question is; what made them so sure the aircraft had already crashed so as to warrant a search and rescue mission?
Mwakwere’s statement is reminiscent of the unresolved Ouko murder saga. The late foreign affairs minister Dr. Ouko was killed and dumped while set alight on Got Alila in the early 90s and the then Police Commissioner – Philip Kilonzo - had put up a spirited attempt to advance a suicide theory into the gruesome murder. How could a man kill himself then set himself ablaze?
Meanwhile the government is already inviting suspicion on itself. The Nation Newspaper quoted eye-witnesses saying that the aeroplane burst into flames after it hit a building. On the other hand, agriculture minister William Ruto speaking after visiting the site nearly 24 hours after the crash was insisting that the aircraft did not burst into flames as reported. Ruto also ruled out possible engine failure and explained that the Kenya Civil Aviation (KCA) team on the ground had indicated in its preliminary report that the engines of the aircraft were still running, but were ripped off by the time of the crash. Live TV footage at the scene reported ‘bodies were burnt beyond recognition’. So, why is Ruto contradicting eye-witness testimony and making an amateurish attempt to change facts on the ground, even before the victims themselves are buried?
I find it strange that the ODM has been quick to accept that Kenya government agents take charge of investigations and yet it is the same government’s responsibility to carry-out airworthiness tests of all aircraft and issue certification. The same government licences the pilot it is now calling ‘inexperienced’ to fly within Kenyan airspace. The same government allowed its senior officials to be airlifted by the inexperienced pilot. Clearly, these facts outrightly disqualifies the government from being in-charge of investigations. It would have been fair to the deceased families, ODM supporters and worried air travellers all over Kenya if ODM would have insisted on an independent, preferably international, full investigation into all aspects surrounding the Kones and Laboso air crash.
In anycase, the families of the victims retain the right of suing the government for damages should investigations implicate government for negligence that contributed to what we now call an accident. Therefore, it is easy for government investigators to manipulate investigations and cover-up its own shortcomings.
Additionally, the ODM must either confirm or deny that there was no plan for some members of its pentagon to board the plane on the same trip that killed Kones and Laboso. Anyone roaming in Nairobi will have already heard the rumour that the entire pentagon was scheduled to travel soon after attending the Vision 2030 launch to campaign in Kilgoris and Ainamoi in a show of unity. The loud silence coming from ODM in this accident is only but fuelling these rumours. Let the party know that although reading messages of condolence and consoling the bereaved families are considerate actions, ODM remains a mass movement that enjoys massive support and the 'accidental' death of any of its leaders (and they are too frequent now) deserves thorough investigations as well as transparency and open flow of information in public interest.