Use rituals to find Lake Nakuru chopper crash victims: locals

Thursday November 9 2017

Lake Nakuru chopper crash.

Relatives and friends of the victims of the Lake Nakuru chopper crash wait on the shores of the lake on November 3, 2017. Some Nakuru residents and leaders have proposed use of traditional methods and rituals to recover the three missing bodies and wreckage of the chopper. PHOTO | AYUB MUIYURO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By ERIC MATARA
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By MAGDALENE WANJA
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Some Nakuru residents and leaders have proposed use of traditional methods and rituals to recover the three missing bodies and wreckage of the chopper that crashed in Lake Nakuru on October 21.

This comes as hopes of retrieving the remaining bodies and the wreckage of the chopper continued to dwindle and some of the divers withdrew from the search.

RITUALS

“Now that the more than 40 professional divers have not been able to find the bodies for the past two weeks, we need to employ traditional methods in the search,” posted Mr John Njuguna in a local WhatsApp group.

The idea was supported by more other residents and local leaders who suggested that elders should camp at the shores of the Lake and conduct rituals to help with the search.

Kenya Navy divers.

Kenya Navy divers resume recovery operations for the Lake Nakuru chopper crash victims on October 24, 2017. Heavy rainfall had disrupted the rescue operations. PHOTO | AYUB MUIYURO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“We now need elders’ support in this search as it has become futile for the past two weeks. Perhaps rituals might help,” stated a local MCA who sought anonymity.

Christians held prayers at the shores of the lake on November 29, 2017, seeking divine intervention in the recovery effort.

The recovery of items of one of the victims early this week at the shores of the Lake, also deepened the mystery surrounding the missing bodies as the search has been conducted only in the Lake.

The search team is now also contemplating combing the nearby bushes.

EMOTIONS

On Wednesday evening, angry and frustrated relatives of the three victims confronted the National Disaster Operation Centre over the fruitless search of their bodies over the last 18 days.

Emotions ran high as the families demanded to be allowed to write to the Israel Embassy in Kenya to request assistance in searching for the bodies.

Family members are frustrated that the operation has taken too long and feel they have been given a raw deal.

The search command team held a meeting with the Rift Valley Regional Coordinator Wanyama Musiambo at the shores of the lake as the families, now hopeless, waited to have audience with them.

In the third week of the search, only a few items suspected to belong to some of the victims were found by the team, which has been spending hours in the lake daily for the last 18 days.

SOCIETAL CLASS

National Disaster Operation Centre desk officer Mr Jonathan Kertich was at pains trying to calm down the agitated families, who angrily stated that the government had failed them.

“We are very frustrated with the whole exercise if this is the best that Kenya has. Is this the best technology or it is what is being offered to us because of our level in society?” Mr Philip Kamau, relative of Ms Veronicah Muthoni, asked.

“Give me permission to write to the Israel Embassy to seek help because you have failed us.”

Mr Kertich assured the families that the search team was doing its best.

“We understand your frustrations but we are assuring you that our experts are working hard,” he said.

CRASH

The campaign chopper, which crashed on October 21, had five people on board, including three members of Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika’s communication team — Mr Sam Gitau, Mr John Mapozi and Mr Anthony Kipyegon — and Ms Veronicah Muthoni  as well as the pilot Mr Apollo Malowa.

The body of Mr Malowa and Mr Kipyegon were retrieved last week and they were buried last Saturday.

Apollo Malowa.

Casket carrying the remains of Captain Apollo Malowa at his burial ceremony in Kamukwaya Village in Siaya County on November 4, 2017. Mr Malowa died when the helicopter he was flying crashed into Lake Nakuru on October 21, 2017. PHOTO | ONDARI OGEGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Mr Kipyegon was buried in Eldama Ravine, Baringo County, while Mr Malowa was laid to rest in Bondo, Siaya County.

However the bodies of Mr Gitau, Mr Mapozi and Ms Muthoni are yet to be found.

At the time of the crash, the chopper was to ferry a group journalists to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaign rally in Narok County.

LEADS

The families feel the team did not thoroughly search the area where most of the debris was collected initially, before moving to another area.

They also said they feel the team had ignored important leads from eyewitness accounts.

The families also demanded reinforcement, saying the command team has engaged the same people in the search operation.

“Why are you using the same people? Why can’t you get reinforcement from both the county and national level?” an agitated Ms Esther Njeri said.

But Mr Kertich assured them that the divers were following all important leads given to them.

“We are not ignoring any details given from the first day, including the oil spill,” he said.

The disaster officer, who has also been camping at the shores of the lake since the crash, said Wednesday’s search had not been fruitful.

SEARCH

Earlier on Monday, he had indicated that the search team had covered a major part of the lake using all the available equipment from the government multi-agency and only a small portion was remaining.

He noted that they were paying more attention to the northern part of the lake the waves deposit most materials in the lake.

“The bodies of the victims were recovered on the northern side of the lake. We shall continue with the search unless the team doing the search tells us that have nothing left for the search. That's when we shall call off the operation, "he said.

Some clothes, a bracelet and one shoe were recovered from the lake, but it could not be confirmed whether they belonged to one of the victims.

The items were recovered in the same location where the divers last Saturday recovered clothes and personal items that belonged to Mr John Mapozi.

On Wednesday, Mr Kertich indicated that there is still some data which shall be examined on Thursday morning.

Lake Nakuru chopper crash.

Divers in Lake Nakuru using a speed boat for recovery operations of the chopper crash victims on October 28, 2017. PHOTO | AYUB MUIYURO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

CAMP

According to the disaster officer, the meeting with the Rift Valley Regional Coordinator was to urge the team to carry on with the operation, despite the frustration and the various challenges cited, including the serious pollution of the lake.

Wednesday’s operation was called off at 4 pm following heavy rains in the afternoon.

The number of people visiting the search and recovery camp set up at the shores of the lake has reduced drastically in the third week.

The number of divers has also reduced, with some citing various challenges.

"We started with a team of around 50 divers, a number which has since been reduced," said one of the divers.

PAY ISSUES

But Mr Kertich insisted the remaining number was still adequate to carry on with the operation.

"The team we have is adequate for the operation and we believe they are capable of finding what we are looking for, "he stated yesterday in an interview with Nation.

However, Nation learnt that the team has cited financial challenges which has strained the ongoing recovery efforts.

On Monday, the search command team held a meeting with Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui where they sought financial support for the operation.

"It is true that some of the bills haven't been met but the governor has assured us of his support," said Mr Kertich.

Both Governor Kinyanjui and Mr Musiambo have stated that the search will not be called off until the victims are found.