Irene Githinji, Kinyuru Munuhe and Wangui Githugo @PeopleDailyKe
Initial investigations into the plane crash that killed 10 people on Tuesday evening points to a possibility that the ill-fated aircraft may have been misled by the control tower in Nairobi to plunge into a doomed flight path.
After the wreckage of the FlySax aircraft was located yesterday morning strewn in dense mountainous jungle in Aberdare Ranges, emerging details last evening indicated its two pilots may have been led to fly low in zero visibility and crash into the side of the mountain.
Multiple reports from Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Police, aviation authorities and various security agencies said there was high possibility the 28-year-old pilot, Captain Barbara Wangeci Kamau who was on the controls, was guided to fly at 11,000 feet instead of 15,000 feet above sea level that would have been the requisite height to clear the brow of the rugged ranges on the flight path.
“This aircraft ploughed right into the side of the mountain. It must have been flying too low to clear the mountain and the pilots had no chance of seeing what lay ahead,” said one of the first air crash investigators to arrive at the scene among a multi-agency rescue team.
There were no survivors and the mangled debris of the twin-engine Cesna and badly-damaged bodies of the victims were strewn among trees and thick vegetation in Elephant Point near Njabini.
Eight passengers and two pilots were aboard the plane that was destined for Nairobi from Kitale.
Investigators managed to locate the air craft’s black box from the debris, that will be expected to shed more light on the cause of the accident.
The pilot was said to have been maintaining a height of 15,000 feet from Kitale when they were directed to use the Kinangop route through the Aberdares and Ruiru flight path en route to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). The usual Ngong route that could have led them to Wilson Airport was discouraged due to bad weather, according to an aviation engineer at the crash scene. ”
By that time, Captain Barbara and First Officer Jean Mureithi were flying at 15,000 feet and had to make a turn to make their way to JKIA through Ruiru and later Utawala and land on runway 24, said the investigator.
Other pilots aware of the accident said their two deceased colleagues complained but told JKIA they were not conversant with the route, even as the controller insisted they would be helped to navigate from the control tower.
It was after they made a turn towards Aberdare forest at an area marked as Avena, that they complained to have lost visibility completely. By that time the pilot had been directed to fly down to 11,000 feet to pass through a mountain corridor, said the sources.
But, probably unbeknown to the pilot who was flying blind in dense rain clouds, they had run into a storm and because the plane was at 11,000 feet, it was doomed to crash into the mountain that requires 15,000 feet to go over, said the aircraft engineering expert. The plane is said to have been in good condition and could have handled such weather while the pilots had at least four years’ experience of flying such planes.
On the fateful day, the plane’s journey had originated from Nairobi, landed in Homa Bay and then Maasai Mara before heading to Kitale where it picked the eight City-bound passengers. It went of the radar at about 5.30pm.
Yesterday morning, after a 24-hour search, news filtered in that none of the eight passengers and two crew on board the FlySax plane had survived.
The news shattered hopes for families and friends of victims, who had all along kept hope alive that their loved ones could have been found alive.
Emotions ran high at the Weston Hotel, near Wilson Airport as news of the tragedy was broken to family members and friends. FlySax Chairman, Charles Wako communicated the news at the hotel, where an information desk had been set up.
“It is with a heavy heart that we have received information from the teams reaching the crash site that there are no survivors. We urge you all to respect the grieving families during this period,” said Wako.
President Uhuru Kenyatta joined Kenyans in mourning the 10 saying: “I am deeply saddened to hear of the tragic plane crash near Kinangop of a plane leaving Kitale for Nairobi. My thoughts and prayers are with the families, in this moment of grief. They will have every assistance my administration can offer, now and in the days to come.”
Transport PS Paul Maringa condoled with families and friends of the deceased, even as he stated that the Ministry’s air accident investigation department will commence investigations into the probable cause of the crash.