Saitoti: Experts cast doubts on chopper engine failure
Posted Saturday, June 30 2012 at 23:30
Preliminary investigations into the helicopter crash that killed Internal Security Minister George Saitoti, his assistant Orwa Ojode and four police officers have ruled out engine failure.
The observation is based on the fact that the helicopter AS350 B3e is capable of gliding to the ground should the engine shut down mid air.
The Sunday Nation has learnt that experts hired by the Saitoti family took a similar aircraft and flew 3,500 feet into the sky and shut the engines to demonstrate to their Kenyan counterparts the chopper’s ability during their recent visit to the country. (READ: Foreign experts join crash probe)
But neither the family investigators — hired from South Africa — nor Kenyan aviation officials have been able to conduct comprehensive investigations to dig up conclusive facts following a series of delays which have caused the Saitoti family much discomfort.
“Within two days, we had identified two experts with accumulated experience of 80 years. They said that the scene of an accident can get contaminated within a very short time.
The crash scene is in a forest and the steps that should be put in place immediately were not. No mapping has been done three weeks after the accident,” the Saitoti family lawyer, Mr Fred Ngatia, told the Sunday Nation.
Mapping in civil aviation refers to the marking out of the actual location of pieces of evidence and taking measurements of a crime scene.
This means that some evidence may be lost due to the time lapse between the day of the accident – 20 days ago today – and the start of full investigations.
“The worst thing is; have we lost any evidence?” Mr Ngatia posed. Prof Saitoti, Mr Ojode and four police officers died on June 10 after their helicopter crashed in Kibiku Forest in Ngong.
The police officers were pilots Nancy Gituanja and Luke Oyugi as well as bodyguards Joshua Tonkei and Thomas Murimi. (READ: Calls for speedy probe as pilot is buried)
The promise of a full inquiry into the cause of the crash was made on June 11 when President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga went to condole with the ministers’ families.
The Saitoti family hired the two experts, Mr Chris Biers and Mr Tim Carter, two days after the crash. On June 13, Mr Ngatia wrote to Transport minister Amos Kimunya and Attorney-General Githu Muigai requesting permission to visit the site.
Following the visit, the experts have made preliminary examinations but have not done a full scale examination of the wreckage which will include chemical analysis that is likely to be done outside the country.
“I remember the President saying ‘we are fully committed.’ But then came the Kimunya factor. He gazetted an inquiry team under the Civil Aviation Act. This Act only applies to civilian aircraft,” Mr Ngatia said in an interview with the Sunday Nation.
“This case cannot be a civilian matter. It was a police chopper and these were government officials and there was a legal problem that no one wanted to confront.”
He was referring to the June 20 Gazette notice in which Mr Kimunya named the inquiry team. It was not until eight days later that President Kibaki upgraded the team under the Commissions of Inquiry Act in order to overcome initial hurdles.
Mr Ngatia said that in the eight days, the investigations were held back by bureaucracy at the Transport ministry “who we could not even get to buy a Sh70,000 container to store the wreckage”.
“The funding had to come through the ministry of Transport which has the most difficult PS,” Mr Ngatia said. He said that the experts had expressed fears that the evidence would deteriorate if the investigations were not conducted speedily.
“The wreckage is to be removed in a scientific way and stored properly in a container part by part. Any part may contain evidence and when it stays for long, the evidence starts to deteriorate. It is time-based. This is a forest which even has animals,” Mr Ngatia said.