Eurocopter blamed for Saitoti crash

President Kibaki receives the report on  Saitoti helicopter crash enquiry from Lady Justice Rawal at his Harambee House office/PPS

President Kibaki receives the report on Saitoti helicopter crash enquiry from Lady Justice Rawal at his Harambee House office/PPS

NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 28 – The commission that investigated the helicopter crash that killed former Internal Security Minister George Saitoti, his assistant Orwa Ojode and four police officers last June, has blamed French firm Eurocopter for the accident.

Commission chairperson Justice Kalpana Rawal says the helicopter manufacturer had installed a test version of a device that should raise alarm in the event of an engine malfunction, but without the knowledge or approval of the Kenya police when it received the helicopter.

She said the prototype Vehicle Engine Monitoring Display (VEMD) was installed on December 4, 2011 after the helicopter’s operational certificate had been issued.

“Eurocopter committed a glaring irregularity. Any irregularities were to be shown on that VEMD but instead of the real one, a prototype was installed before the aircraft came to us and after our authorities had given the pre inspection certificate,” she explained.

“And according to the witnesses before us, the commandant was not informed of this installation and it was a serious fault,” she maintained.

The commission, which listened to 66 witnesses, also observed that the helicopter was not being maintained by its manufacturers and was purchased before its tendering process was complete.

Rawal urged the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) to take up the matter of the prototype arguing that it should be investigated further.

“KCAA should send a protest note to the European Aviation Safety Authority on the basis that Eurocopter knowingly allowed for use of a prototype part on an operational aircraft,” she said.

She also called for an overhaul of KCAA saying it required a total transformation, both in terms of finances and infrastructure, to ensure that it achieved its mandate.

The commission, which also established probable cause of the crash as loss of aircraft control in poor visibility, added that it was unable to determine the exact cause of death of the six Kenyans because of poor post-mortem assessment.

Rawal called for the urgent establishment of a National Forensic Teaching and Research facility to help handle such issues.

“An opportunity was lost to the commission to determine whether cause of death was due to carbon monoxide poisoning, traumatic injuries, fire injuries or a combination of any of these,” she explained.

The Kenya Police Air Wing was also faulted with the commission accusing it of having shortcomings in the fields of training, safety management and continued air worthiness checks.

“This could be the reason for the underhand functions of the wing,” argued Rawal.

The report has been forwarded to President Mwai Kibaki, who wants another committee formed to implement the findings of the Rawal-led team.

Rawal, who was accompanied by Maj Gen (Rtd) Harold Tangai, Capt Peter Maranga and Frederick Opot, handed over the report to President Kibaki at his Harambee House office on Thursday.

Saitoti and Ojode were killed last year on June 10, alongside Captains Nancy Gituanja and Luke Oyugi and bodyguards Joshua Tonkei and Thomas Murimi.

The commission of inquiry was immediately appointed to investigate the chopper accident that occurred in Kibiku area of Ngong.