Bernard Gitau @benagitau
Indeed, death is harsh, cruel. When Captain Barbara Wangechi took to the skies that fateful Tuesday of June 5, no one would think it would be the last.
Not her mother Marie Njeri; not her elder sister Irene Kamau; and definitely not her fiancé Austin Mbalo. If they had, they would have teamed into a formidable chain that would hold her down, keep her grounded, keep her with them —alive.
But they didn’t. No one does. So after spending around 2,300 hours on air, Wangechi lifted off Kitale Airstrip on her beloved red and white FlySax plane, destination Nairobi’s Wilson Airport.
But the Aberdare Forest was where fate would snuff her dreams, one that included marriage and six children. Yes, the captain’s love for kids was so much so, she meant to get six of her own.
Immediate family members revealed this in an emotional and teary Requiem Mass at St Paul’s Chapel, Nairobi that was led by Father Dominic Wamugunda, who also noted the late journey to marriage was “very, very profound”.
“I do not know if you Austin knew Barbara wanted to have six children?” posed Irene. Mbalu didn’t answer, but he probably did know going by a revelation shortly after by his mother-in-law who never was.
“When she introduced Captain Austin to us, I asked him if he knew my daughter wanted six children and before he answered Barbara winked at me,” she said.
Though she remained composed, Njeri termed her daughter’s sudden death “an unexplained storm that has left the family with many unanswered questions”.
Barbara, the last born in a family of five, was eulogised as a professional, kind, warm and friendly person with an infectious smile.
She dated Mbalo for the last two years and the young Captain was so overcome with emotion to speak at the mass. His sister, Doreen Mbalo, stepped in and described Barbara as authentic, beautiful and loving.
“You accepted our brother wholeheartedly, we will miss you so much and know Austin loves you too,” she said.
Even as the family licked the painful wounds, Barbara’s sister found the strength for a moment of laughter, thanking her late sister for passing to the rest of the family a trait she really loved – food.
“We would wake up at 6am to eat ugali, stew, cabbages, and sukumawiki, we loved food, you are gone and left the ‘mashakura’ family alone, please come back,” she stuttered.
She revealed they were in the process of starting a cooking show but with her sister gone, the plan was now in abeyance.
In departure from the usual drabness of grey, black mourning attire, the choice of dress and decorations for vehicles was purple: the colour theme for their wedding that turned out to be so near yet so far.
Purple, it was revealed, was Barbara’s favourite colour. Coincidentally, purple is the colour of suffering in the Catholic Church set-up.
But it is a poem from Mbalo to his fiancé, composed by Diana Okello Maranya, that really summed up the pain of losing someone so dear.
“There are many colour flowers on the path of life, but the prettiest have the sharpest thorns and just like the sharp thorns of whistling thorn tree, you jealously guarded our love daily,” it read.
“Goodbye my beautiful purple flower, I know you heeded the Father’s call, and even though I only had you for the shortest hour, I thank the Lord for the most beautiful queen of all,” poem concluded.
Barbara enrolled at the Kenya School of Flying in 2007 for a private pilots licence (PPL) and later joined Progress Flight Academy in Port Elizabeth, South Africa where she acquired her commercial pilot’s licence (CPL).
She was buried at the family home at Karura Kanyungu in Kiambaa. The ill-fated FlySax plane, which crashed in the Aberdare Forest, was initially scheduled to land at the Wilson Airport.
But air traffic controllers at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) directed the pilots to head to the JKIA instead.
This was ostensibly because of bad weather in the city, specifically at Wilson Airport, which apparently does not have good equipment to help in navigation. Investigations are ongoing to determine the cause of the crash.