By STANDARD TEAM
Just what happened in the last five minutes when the helicopter that killed Internal Security minister Prof George Saitoti and five others was in the air?
Was it human error, sabotage or did a critical part of the chopper fail, bringing it down 10 minutes after take off? Or even more curiously, did the pilots lose control say because of sudden failure?
These are the questions everyone was left asking even as the Government dismissed the first four causes that usually bring down choppers: incompetence and inexperience on the part of the pilot, human error, bad weather, and state of the aircraft.
The first things the investigators will have to take interest in is that the skyline might not have been as clear as the Government is making it appear, given that even other pilots had reported problems in the air.
The other is the report that a critical tracking device at Wilson Airport was not working at the time because of Internet problems.
Questions will also be asked about who last serviced the aircraft, where this was done, and who had access to where it was usually parked at the Kenya Police Air Wing.
There also reports that might interest investigators that the pilot who took it up was not the one who had earlier been designated the job.
Investigations to be led by a high-level team set up Monday will largely focus on the pre-flight plans, maintenance record of the aircraft, the state of the two pilots who also died in the crash, and especially what happened in the cockpit between 8:37am and 8:42am.
Monday, President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka led ministers in what the State referred to as “Special Cabinet Meeting” to which Members of Parliament and top Government technocrats were admitted, to mourn and lay ground for the burial of those killed.
The dead include Ndhiwa MP Joshua Orwa Ojode who was Saioti’s assistant minister and confidante, as well as two of the former Kajiado North MP’s bodyguards, Inspector Joshua Tonkei and Sergeant Thomas Murimi.
Also going to the grave with secrets of what transpired in the cockpit was the pilot in charge of the flight and mother of three, Nancy Gituanja, and her co-pilot, Luke Oyugi.
Speculation as to what exactly happened went on, as it also emerged that both Saitoti and Ojode died while either having jumped off the chopper, or having managed to move away, albeit for only a few metres, once it hit the ground.
Though it was not possible to identify which body was Saitoti’s and Ojode’s, those who knew them said their remains lay a few metres from the plane.
It is also likely, going by the clothing on one of the bodies, and a burned checked coat Saitoti is often seen with, that he could have jumped and broke one of his legs, in which case it would mean he did not run. The coat was a few feet from the body, meaning he could have managed to remove it even as flames engulfed him.
The body of Tonkei could be identified given the pistol recovered on his belt, and next to him sat Murimi. Traces of their uniforms, like the pilots’, was still identifiable, and they died strapped to their seats.
It also emerged that for the second time one of Saitoti’s guards, Samuel Topoika, cheated death as he was removed from the chopper and replaced with Murimi, because he was of heavy build and the pilots insisted they could only take in a sixth person if he or she weighed less.
In 2009, Topoika escaped another crash in Kisii after he was slotted to travel in a different military chopper. Ojode survived that particular crash.
Appeal Court judge Kalpana Rawal will lead the five-member team to investigate the crash.
“We will know what caused this tragic incident. Whether it is sabotage, pilot or mechanical errors all those will be revealed in due course of our probe,” said a highly placed source that asked not to be named.
The Standard established all aircrafts leaving the airport at the time were not tracked since the tracking software was not working because of Internet shutdown.
The system allows aviation officers monitor the movements of the plane, including speed, engine performance and its flight path and even detect problems if they come.
An officer who spoke to The Standard said that although the chopper may not have had a black box that recorded the last moments, it may have a mechanism of recording the engine activity before it went.
“It had full passenger capacity allowable on board. Flight was normal for five minutes… till when it was leaving Wilson Airport and was being handed over to another frequency 118.5 and they confirmed it had picked up the new frequency,” Kimunya said.
“The last video tracking confirmed that as the last communication recorded and that is when it lost communication with control tower,” Kimunya added.
He said the helicopter was relatively new and had done under 100 hours of flight and the weather was normal. Aviation investigators from the manufacturers of the chopper arrived in the country on Monday night.
President Kibaki ordered a full investigation into the cause of the accident. According to sources at the Kenya Police Air Wing, the pilots did not send out any distress calls to the control tower at Wilson Airport during the last moments of the flight, suggesting a communication breakdown.
The aircraft left Wilson at 8.32am and preliminary reports showed it was in good shape between 8.32am and 8.37am when it was getting out of the frequency 118.5.
“The control tower confirmed that they received the frequency, but after that they were cut off and we lost the aircraft at 8.42am,” said Kimunya.
Addressing President Kibaki and MPs Kimunya said the aircraft 5YCDT A5350, was manufactured in July last year and had done 32 hours and 32 minutes at the time of registration this January.
According to flying logs, Superintendent Nancy Gituanja had clocked 1,166 hours and 29 minutes, a time considered good among experienced pilots. She has also not been involved in any mishap. Flying time for Oyugi was not immediately available, but since both pilots joined the Kenya Police Air Wing in 2000, it could be in the same range.
“No one would have expected the plane, which had very good systems and very good pilots, to have fallen out of the sky. We are very baffled about what could have happened,” admitted Police Air Wing Commandant Rogers Mbithi.
It also emerged that the Sh200 million aircraft did not have insurance cover, like all Government planes, and so the pilots’ families are not entitled to any compensation.
Stories by Ally Jamah, Peter Opiyo and Cyrus Ombati