NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 10 – As investigations got underway into Sunday’s helicopter crash that killed six people, details emerged that the aircraft was acquired by the Kenya Police just five months ago.
The Head of the Public Service Francis Kimemia said that the helicopter was brand new and it had been mainly carrying VIPs.
The helicopter crash killed Internal Security Minister George Saitoti, his assistant Orwa Ojode, their bodyguards Inspector Joshua Tonkei and Sergeant Thomas Murimi.
The pilots Nancy Gituanja and Luke Oyugi were also killed.
The Kenya Police Air-Wing is the first African customer for the AS350 B3e, which boasts several enhancements over previous AS350 variants, including an uprated Turbomeca Arriel 2D turbine engine allowing better take-off performances while decreasing maintenance costs, according to heli.com, a helicopter history site.
“The Kenya Police Air-Wing is expanding its airborne law enforcement and crime prevention unit with the delivery of a Eurocopter AS350 B3e Ecureuil helicopter,” the website states.
Adding : “Kenya’s selection of the AS350 B3e, which is the enhanced version of Eurocopter’s successful AS350 model, follows an open and competitive tender won earlier this year by Eurocopter Southern Africa (Pty) Ltd, the Group subsidiary in charge of Southern Africa markets.”
The information is corroborated by Rotorpad.com, an online media company specialising on information targeting the international helicopter industry, which states that “Kenya was the first country on the continent to fly the first Donaldson AS350B3e Inlet Barrier Filter (IBF) system.”
“Donaldson Aerospace & Defence, a division of Donaldson Company, Inc. (NYSE: DCI) delivered the advanced filtration system via Eurocopter South Africa for installation on the Kenya Police Air-Wing’s new aircraft,” the Rotorpad website said.
(Video courtesy, Eurocopter)
There was no immediate information from police headquarters about the crash or the history of the helicopter that went down, although Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere was at the scene Sunday.
It said the Kenya Police Air-Wing joined Donaldson customers across Africa protecting their helicopter engines with Donaldson IBFs, including Council for GeoScience, Lady Lori Helicopters, South African Police Service, Government Air Transport Namibia, and New Resolution Geophysics/Wild Dog Helicopters, among others.
“Donaldson’s AS350B3e IBF Supplemental Type Certificate approvals cover both single hydraulic aircraft (PN#112005-101) and dual hydraulic aircraft (PN#121001-101) with the Turbomeca Arriel 2D engine,” the website states.
The investigation will try to establish why the helicopter crashed barely 10 minutes after taking off from the city’s Wilson Airport.
Air Accident Investigators drawn from the Kenya Police, Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) and the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) sealed off the scene to try and establish the cause of the accident.
“Most probably it was caused by bad weather. It was foggy at the time it went down,” one police officer from the Kenya Police Air Wing involved in the investigation said.
“We are now trying to analyse other equipment at the scene and looking at all the other general aspects of this accident,” the investigator who did not want to be identified said.
He said they had also not ruled out engine failure as the second probable cause.
“We cannot rule out anything in a scenario like this but we are almost certain about bad weather,” he added.
Another police source based at the Kenya Police Air Wing described both pilots who perished at the crash as “very qualified”, ruling out pilot error.
“They have been flying to various parts of the country and they understand these aircraft quite well. It was not new to their hands,” the source said.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga visited the scene and pledged a thorough investigation of Sunday’s crash.
“An investigation is already underway and we have to establish what caused this crash. It is very unfortunate that we have lost the minister, his assistant and the four others,” Odinga said when he visited the scene, just before the charred remains of the six were retrieved.
When Capital FM News arrived at the scene, police were still trying to keep curious members of the public at bay.
Smoke could still be seen billowing from the site, the fire having been put off.
Bodies of the six lay less than two meters from one another.
Two burnt pistols could be seen next to two of the bodies and were immediately secured by police officers who kept searching for more items.
Bundles of Sh1,000 notes could be seen scattered on the site.
One of the bodies, believed to be that of the female pilot was not badly burned.
Another body had its shoes intact, although they were partly burnt but easily recognisable. None of the faces was identifiable.
Witnesses interviewed there told of a horrific scene, many saying they saw the plane hover around before it went down.
“It was moving as usual just like any aircraft, suddenly it appeared like it wanted to turn back where it was coming from and that point it started flying too low and headed down to the forest. We then heard a loud sound followed by fire,” Jonathan Ng’ang’a, a witness said.
Others said it caught fire while airborne and went down burning.
“I could see some smoke as it went down, I think it caught fire before it hit the ground,” another witness Charles Katiku said.
Another witness Henry Lelei said: “We rushed there and a woman was crying, she had not been burnt but we couldn’t move closer because the fire was huge. When the fire spread we ran away.”
The woman the witness was referring to was later identified as Gituanja, who was flying the aircraft. She was among the six who were consumed by the blaze in the horror crash.
Parts of the aircraft were littered all over the scene, but the helicopter tail was intact.
It had a Kenyan flag and registration numbers AS350B3e on it.