Saitoti probe told of chopper fears
- Engineer says team did not consider safety features of the helicopter before buying it
A team handling the acquisition of a helicopter that crashed in Ngong, killing two ministers and four police officers, did not consider the aircraft’s safety features before importing it, the commission investigating the accident heard on Tuesday.
The Eurocopter for the Police Airwing, crashed shortly after takeoff from Wilson Airport on June 10, killing Internal Security minister George Saitoti, his deputy Orwa Ojodeh and the four officers.
Testifying on the second day of hearings chaired by Justice Kalpana Rawal in Nairobi, aircraft engineer Simon Njoroge Mugo said he was co-opted from the Kenya Wildlife Service to assist in the technical evaluation for the aircraft’s procurement.
He said he disagreed with the police team over the preferred Eurocopter against Bell helicopters, which were already in use in the police force.
He said the technical evaluation team grappled with eight items on May 6, 2011 at Vigilance House in Nairobi but “the safety of the product was never a consideration.”
Mr Mugo was being cross-examined by the Saitoti family lawyer, Mr Fredrick Ngatia, who pressed him to disclose his recommendations.
Mr Mugo said a preliminary analysis at the meeting only involved the machine’s automation capability, the validity of tenders submitted, a perusal of flight manuals presented by the bidders, Eurocopter and Bell, and a scrutiny of a list of their previous customers.
He said the cost was also considered with Bell, although having advantages over its rival, asking a higher price.
Mr Mugo said the first discrepancy arose out of their takeoff weights, which were not clear in the documents submitted. “It was not clear if they had calculated their presentations against the helicopters’ internal and external gross weights but we resolved the issue by summing up what they gave us and coming up with an acceptable average figure,” Mr Mugo said.
He said the next discrepancy arose out of sitting capacities of the aircraft.
He said the Eurocopter was favoured over the Bell, the latter’s seven-seater capacity notwithstanding, as the former, with a capacity of six, could be modified to take a seventh passenger. Mr Mugo said in his opinion, Bell helicopters had superior navigation and safer manoeuvrability since their structural frameworks and fittings were more durable.
“I made it clear that the Bell series are fitted with automatic hydraulic actualisers and their design features are superior,” Mr Mugo said.
The hearing continues.