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.
The lawyer contradicted Mr Kimunya’s statement to Parliament that he was in touch with the departed minister’s family.
“Which family? Not the Saitoti family. I have been in touch with Mrs (Margaret) Saitoti every three hours or so. We have been with family members when visiting the crash site,” said Mr Ngatia.
The matter came up in Parliament on Thursday when MPs accused the Transport ministry of frustrating investigations.
Mutito MP Kiema Kilonzo accused the government, and in particular the Transport ministry, of frustrating investigators “who the Saitoti family brought from South Africa” until they had to return home.
“When they asked the Permanent Secretary in the ministry of Transport to visit the site accompanied by government investigators, they (ministry) have been reluctant,” said Mr Kilonzo.
The claims were repeated by Kilgoris MP Gideon Konchella, a close friend and political ally of Prof Saitoti. (READ: Drug lords killed Saitoti, claim MPs)
The PNU MP spoke when he sought a statement from the government on whether “there is a deliberate effort to obstruct the truth”. He also sought an explanation why “necessary assistance and facilitation has been deliberately withheld by the ministry to enable the investigators to carry out their duty.’’
“It is now about three weeks since the deaths of our colleagues and the four police officers but investigators have been frustrated by the ministry.
“The investigators representing the family of Prof Saitoti left the country last (Wednesday) night due to frustration. This delay is likely to be challenged in future, that the helicopter did not meet civil aviation standards,” Mr Konchella said.
Kilome MP Harun Mwau asked Mr Kimunya, whom the statements were addressed to, to explain whether the investigation included families of the crash victims “because they were supposed to be included and so far none has been included.”
However, Mr Kimunya insisted that the Saitoti family have been kept in the picture and that the investigators had been given assistance.
He confirmed he had met the investigators representing the Saitoti family and that he personally handed them over to the chief investigator at the site.
“They have been working together and they said they only needed to be in the country for three or four days, gather information, go back to South Africa, prepare their notes and then come back and prepare themselves for the inquiry,” Mr Kimunya said.
He described as “extremely unfounded” allegations that the investigators had been frustrated. “I have been following the progress on this and I know that there has been no frustration on any of the people who want to be enjoined as a party to this inquiry starting Monday at the KICC.”
On Saturday, the Sunday Nation team visited the site and found the wreckage still at the crash site but under the watch of police officers. Mr Ngatia said that since the investigations were moved to the Office of the President, matters had moved at a much faster pace.
“They are now moving at a fast speed ... faster than the family can keep up with,” Mr Ngatia said. Office of the President officials contacted Mr Ngatia late on Thursday evening to say that the funds for purchasing a container were now in place.
The inquiry, under the chairmanship of Justice Kalpana Rawal, starts on Monday. It is expected that the proceedings will rely heavily on what investigators will be able to reconstruct after expert analysis of the wreckage and examination of other parts of evidence such as the day’s weather and the residue on the soil and vegetation on the site.
The crash site was awash with thousands of curious government officials and members of the public who turned up after the news of the accident spread.
In Parliament, Mr Konchella said the alleged frustrations started days into the investigations, accusing Mr Kimunya’s ministry of “making sure it locks out” the Saitoti family investigators when they ask for facilitation.
He also claimed that the PS had “refused” to answer any phone calls from the family investigators so they decided to return to South Africa.