Kones death: The untold story
Published on June 15, 2008, 12:00 am
By Sunday Standard Team
Investigators are asking hard and shocking questions on the Tuesday air crash that killed Roads Minister Kipkalya Kones and Assistant Minister Lorna Laboso. Barring the paranormal, fate, and the unlikelihood of
sudden power loss they are agreed the four who died would have landed in Kericho, were it not for certain ‘human factors’.
|An investigator of air accidents and a policeman at the scene where the plane carrying Bomet MP Kipkalya Kones and Sotik MP Lorna Laboso crashed killing them with the pilot and the minister’s body guard in Narok on Tuesday.
Picture: Maxwell Agwanda
The questions range from, according sources familiar with the preliminary investigation, claims the plane could have undergone an engine change. That the one it was flying on the day of the crash isn’t the one it was inspected and certified to fly with.
“Was the plane flown on the fateful day 5YBAM or 5Y BVE?’’ he asked.
The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority Director Chris Kuto has rigorously defended the firm that operated the plane, arguing the Cessna 210E was properly registered and the pilot qualified. The investigating team, to be led by the director of Air Accidents Investigations Peter Wakahia is expected to be named any time. Kones, Laboso, and the minister’s bodyguard, Kenneth Bett will be buried this weekend. The pilot’s burial arrangements are unclear.
At the crash scene, investigators are questioning why the search and rescue operations for a plane that left Wilson Airport at 2.18pm, and which is believed to have crashed at 2.58pm, only began at 4.30pm – about 90 minutes later. The recovery team, called so because the death of the four on board had been confirmed, finally reached the crash site at 6pm, and according to investigators, “for the first time in Kenya’s history, the body of a Cabinet minister lay in the bush until the next day’’.
Yet, they ask, the aircraft was hardly 110km from Nairobi. “Is the radar control effective when it is now mandatory that all flights ‘squawk’ a code that a radar shall pick before departure and maintain it until landing, and yet it took up to 6pm for the search and rescue team to reach the scene?’’ asked a top air accident investigators.
Because of their limited number, Kenya’s ‘unofficial’ operating rules, ongoing investigations, and nature of current engagement, he spoke on condition of anonymity.
There is also the range of questions on the training of the solo pilot, Schner Christopher, who also died, with specific focus on alleged court appearance for unspecified case for which it is believed he was arraigned.
The pilot’s familiarity with local terrain and weather conditions are also in focus, with specific interest on his experience on ‘ground rules’ in the industry.
But most relevant to his flying is an incident in which he is said to have crossed Runaway 06 at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, temporarily obstructing and causing a near-brush with an international passenger flight.
There is also the worrying status of Kenya’s safety record, inspection of aircraft, flight crew and operators, as well as the enforcement of internationally accepted rules.
Going back-to-back with this, is alleged presence of ‘untouchables ‘boda boda’ plane operators, especially at the Wilson Airport, whose business operations are questionable and unregulated.
“The direct route taken by this flight suggests to an investigator he relied on GPS (inbuilt Global Positioning System). When on Visual Flight Rule is used as it appears in this case, you must not be higher than 13,500 feet above sea level, you must never fly in clouds, and you must see the ground all the time.” And when on this mode, a switch to instrument navigation is completely prohibited.
“ICAO (a global flight safety and regulatory body) rules demand you must be 1.5 miles from the clouds and 1,000 feet below or above them,” he added, questioning: “Was his knowledge of geography and navigation sufficient to deliver a safe flight?’’ asked the investigator.
Then the issue on many minds in the industry: “He was possibly in the clouds, which should never have been the case. Unless there was certain power loss, which the inspection of the engine and propellers can show, it appears in every likelihood the pre-flight was faulty.”
He gave the example of the Fairchild light aircraft accident about three years ago, which left Wilson Airport for Samburu under the systems and only planned to avoid over-flying Nanyuki Military Airbase. “But the GPS took them right into the tip of Mount Kenya and the rest is history.
“The report of this accident, unlike in the US, Europe and Canada where it is public information, has been kept away from operators, young pilots, and fliers,’’ he added.
‘It is a normal aviation practice and requirement that a flight under any flight rule shall report its position to the ATC (Air Traffic Controller)? Did this pilot after checking zone boundary report any further?” the investigator asked.
As a matter of routine he revealed the investigators would be ploughing through the records to ascertain the pilot’s competence, especially in relation to the plane type, as well as the operator’s records.
“In Kenya one must log between 250-500 hours to get the proficiency and flying licence. This just qualifies you to fly in the company of a more experienced and proficient pilot. Commercial companies will not let you fly a passenger aircraft alone when having less than 600 hours?” said the investigator. In all the case the supervising pilot must vouch for you, you can fly alone in given aircrafts and weather.
He added: “Training will always take between 18 months and two years depending on the trainer’s financial capacity to go on uninterrupted, and availability of instructors.’’
“The questions to be asked include: Who was this pilot? Who can vouch for him? Who was his employer? Which company employed him as captain? How many hours did he fly for this company? And was the operator qualified?’’
They will also be asking how regularly the plane was serviced, inspected, and the pilot’s depth of training on Kenya’s flying ‘terrain’.
“Aircraft are designed to be airworthy, even if they are, very likely like this one, probably built in the ate 1950s, upon compliance of approved maintenance at all times,’’ he explained.
He added, operating an airline is capital intensive and servicing is mainly done, for Kenya’s case, in South Africa.
“South Africa is a third world in matters of aviation,’’ he said, adding the inspection could have been hamstrung by corruption, limited human and tool resource, government bureaucracy, and “our known malady for short-cuts”.
Apart from checking out Christopher’s efficiency, the investigators will also cast the eye on one important rule. “The law requires that any pilot, particularly commercial, must pass in all subjects examinable with more than 70 per cent. In all the stages of licensing he or she must be recommended by a more experienced pilot.’’
He added: “In the case of Commercial Pilot Licence (like the one awarded Christopher on qualifying), the holder may fly with an experienced pilot as long as it takes for the new pilot to demonstrate knowledge of managing flight in respect of pre-flight, hazards on the route, alternate airfields, fuelling sectors and communication required.’’
“In Kenya’s case, there are sectors of high elevation that will not be a route to a destination for a proficient pilot and hence the need to navigate away from obstacles and other hazards not limited to terrain.’’
The investigator’s conclusion is worrying: though flying is the safest mode of transport globally, locally it could be dalliance with death for reasons of official neglect, limited resource base, and failure to catalogue and publicise for posterity painful lessons from fatal mistakes.