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Bad weather forces Pilot to land chopper in farm

Monday June 18 2012

Pilot Allan Root made an emergency landing in a farm. Mr Root was taking his two children to Nairobi's Banda School. He later took off after the clouds cleared. PHOTO / JOSEPH KANYI

Pilot Allan Root made an emergency landing in a farm on Monday after encountering bad weather. Mr Root was taking his two children to Nairobi's Banda School. He later took off after the clouds cleared. PHOTO / JOSEPH KANYI 

By JOHN NJAGI [email protected]

A helicopter with three people made an emergency landing in a marshy area at a village in Mathira East district due to bad weather.

Mr Allan Root, the pilot, was taking his two children Myles Root, 11 and Rory Root 9, to a private school in Nairobi when they experienced bad weather and landed at a remote village in Mathira, about 15 kilometers off the Nyeri-Nairobi highway at about 8am.

“We experienced very low clouds and it was difficult seeing ahead. We had no choice but to come down and find somewhere to land safely,” said Mr Root, a 75 year-old filmmaker, who said he had more than 30 years flying experience.

Central region police boss John Mbijjiwe confirmed the incident saying there was no cause for alarm as the pilot had only made an emergency landing because of the bad weather and would proceed once the skies clear.

When the Nation team arrived at the scene, Mr Root and his two children sat calmly waiting for the weather to clear, contrary to the anxious crowd that had gathered there to witness what was happening.

He took off about an hour later saying he would circle the skies to assess the weather, and if it was still bad, he would return back and land.

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Mr Root said emergency landing was normal flying procedure and is usually done as a safety precaution as unfavourable weather to avoid accidents.

They were travelling from Lewa Downs conservancy in Laikipia County to Nairobi’s Banda School, where the children were reporting back to school.

The 75 year-old, resides at Lewa Downs where he shoots wildlife documentaries for National geographic, among other companies.

He said although the weather in Laikipia was fine at the time of takeoff, it became foggy in the section between the Aberdare and Mt Kenya forests, forcing him to make an emergency landing.

“Sometimes we find it (weather) foggy and we are able to manoeuvre and find our way to Nairobi but today it was so thick we could hardly see ahead and we were forced to land,” he said.

The weather, a mixture of fog and light showers, was so thick. motorists along the Nyeri-Karatina highway were forced to slow down and drive with full lights, due to poor visibility.

Mr Root, who owns the helicopter, said he occasionally flies between Lewa Downs and Nairobi, where he has homes.

One of the sons, Myles, who said he is in grade seven, said he was not scared but was grateful the helicopter had landed safely.

“This is usual stuff but we are grateful we did not encounter obstacles such as electricity wires which can easily cause the plane to crash,” he said.

He said his mother, who usually travels with the family in the chopper, had been left behind at their residence in Lewa Downs, to take care of their two new puppies.

The chopper registered as 5Y-OYO, a Hughes 500, bought 20 years ago, landed in an arrow-roots (Nduma) and sweet potatoes farm, with Mr Root handing out Sh1,550 in cash to the owner Ms Mary Muthoni to take care of the damage caused to the crops where he landed.

Ms Muthoni said she heard a roaring sound above her house as she prepared breakfast, and when she came out, she saw a helicopter hovering above her house.

She said it moved a few meters away and tried to land on a maize plantation before finally landing in an arrow roots farm nearby.

“I heard a loud roaring sound above the house and when I came out I saw a helicopter which was just a few meters above the house,” she said.

Gathaithini assistant chief, David Githui said he was brushing his teeth, when he suddenly saw a low flying aircraft.

"The chopper soon moved to a different direction, and moments later the sound died down, so I thought it may have either crashed or landed safely,” he said adding that he soon took off towards the aircraft’s direction, hoping for the worst.

Another resident, John Kamau, said he was in the farm cutting fodder for his cattle when he saw an aircraft flying low and hovering as if the pilot wanted to land.

“The chopper flew above my cows for several minutes and after nearly landing on top of trees, the pilot was able to steer it to a safer place, landing in a clearer area,” he said.

Mr Kamau was one of the first to reach the area chatted with the pilot, he informed him he had landed as a precaution due to bad weather.

A section of residents who had milled around the aircraft, gathered for prayers after the chopper had taken off, expressing gratitude that the aircraft had not crashed into people’s houses, and that there were no casualties.