Sunday, June 10, 2012

Chopper was ‘new and powerful’

The police helicopter, which crashed in Ngong forest, parked at the Wilson Airport last week. The Kenya Police Air-Wing was the first in Africa to purchase the model.

The police helicopter, which crashed in Ngong forest, parked at the Wilson Airport a week earlier. Photo|WILLIAM OERI|  NAATION MEDIA GROUP

By FRED MUKINDA fmukinda@ke,nationmedia.com AND SILAS APOLLO [email protected]

The helicopter that crashed on Sunday was just a few months old, having been purchased from South Africa and delivered to the police early in the year.

The Kenya Police Air-Wing is the first in Africa to purchase the model.

The manufacturer of the aircraft, Eurocopter Southern Africa, described it as a “powerful, high-performance,” machine suited for “most demanding missions in the most extreme weather and geographical conditions.”

The company is a subsidiary of Eurocopter in France. The chopper had done 240 hours since the police acquired it, with officers describing it as the most powerful of the entire fleet.

Superintendent Nancy Gituanja one of the pilots who perished in the tragedy yesterday, and the Police Air Wing commandant Rogers Mbithi went to South Africa for a two-week training.

She is the one who carried out a one-hour fly test on the plane before endorsing it as a servicable aircraft. The craft was valued at 2 million euros (Sh220 million ).

“It can never be a major component failure because it went down without making contact with anything,” said Mr Mbithi.

Though Kenya Police was the first to acquire the model in Africa, an earlier variant of the helicopter has been in use by other police services in several countries including Angola, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.

According to information posted in Eurocopter’s website, the upgraded model, “boasts several enhancements over previous variants, including an upgraded Turbomeca Arriel 2D turbine engine allowing better take-off performances while decreasing maintenance costs.”

The ill-fated craft was model AS350 B3e. Its predecessor was model AS350. The acquisition of the helicopter, which was registered as 5Y-CDT- was part of the Kenya Police Air-Wing plan to expand its airborne law enforcement and crime prevention unit capabilities.

Lifting capability

An aircraft engineer at Wilson Airport who requested anonymity told the Nation that the ill-fated chopper was assembled at the Kenya Wildlife Service headquarters sometime in February and serviced at the police hangar at the airport after which it was declared fit to fly.

“Its exceptional lifting capability, high endurance, extended range and fast cruise speed make the AS350 B3e the leader in its class.

“The popularity of Eurocopter’s AS350 in a law enforcement role can be attributed to its ability to meet all of a police flying unit forces’ main requirements,” the manufacturer said.

The makers further say the chopper is good for search and rescue missions, casualty evacuation as well as personnel transport.

They believed the aircraft would be used in law enforcement and crime prevention missions including anti-poaching and anti-terrorism.

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