Agonising wait for chopper crash victims’ bodies - Daily Nation

Families still cling on to hope three weeks after chopper crashed

Sunday November 12 2017

helicopter crash

Relatives and friends of the passengers that were aboard the helicopter that crashed into Lake Nakuru wait on the shores on November 3, 2017 as the recovery efforts continue. PHOTO | AYUB MUIYURO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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It has been an agonising 22 days for three families of victims of the Lake Nakuru helicopter crash whose remains have not been found.

Every day for the last three weeks, family members of Mr Sam Gitau, Mr John Mapozi and Ms Wairimu Muthoni have been camping at the shores of Lake Nakuru, hopeful that the remains of their loved ones would be retrieved from the water and handed to them for burial.

The crash itself was traumatising. But that they can’t get the remains of their loved ones to give a befitting burial has become a daily ordeal for them.

The frustration has turned into anger, with the families now suggesting that the Israel Embassy be invited to assist in the recovery effort.

They are convinced that the Kenyan team, despite assurances, has not done its best since the crash happened on October 21.

The ill-fated 5Y-NMJ owned and operated by Flex Air Charters was being flown by Captain Apollo Malowa with four other occupants.


Bodies of the pilot and Mr Anthony Kipyegon were retrieved on the third day of the search and were buried by their families last week.

Mr William Ngugi, Mr Gitau's father, left their rural home in Kiambu the same afternoon after receiving a call informing him of the news of the crash.

"I arrived in Nakuru at around 7:00pm on Saturday when the operation had been called off for the first day and I had to wait until the following day. And I was among the first people at the site with hopes," Mr Ngugi said.

As the sun set at the end of the second day of the search, Mr Ngugi said he could not imagine waiting for another day.

More than 20 days into the search, the agony has been the order of the day for the families.

Mr Ngugi said sometimes the day starts with hopes and as the divers get into the lake, the atmosphere looks promising.

Every time they see a boat approaching the shores from the lake, they surge forward with anxiety hoping something has been found in the waters.

But their hopes are dashed. It has been the same news at the end of every day of the search.

"Sometimes we have questions that we wish they are answered. 

"At times we get explanation as to why nothing has been retrieved yet. We have no option but to wait," Mr Ngugi told Sunday Nation.

This week, the families turned their anger on the National Disaster Operation Centre demanding answers on why the search has not yielded fruit.

"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, an angry family member of Ms Muthoni, asked the agency's desk officer Jonathan Kertich when the families confronted him at the lake this week.

"Give me permission to write to the Israel Embassy to seek because you have failed us," he said.

The families said that the search has drained them emotionally and economically because they have to spend most of their time at the park.

"The government needs to explain why it is difficult to retrieve the bodies and the chopper in a 54-square kilometre lake where its deepest area is only eight metres," Mr Robert Ngugi, a family member to one of the victims, observed.

He noted that although the government has its own services, there was need to consider hiring private contractors for the work.

"If the equipment being used is the best and we cannot retrieve anything then we could ask help from other countries," Mr Ngugi said.

Mr Ngugi said the anxiety has been growing every day, especially with the recovery of some clothes last week.

More than 40 divers took part in the exercise in the first two weeks, but the number has been reducing with some withdrawing citing various challenge.

The heavy rains have also not helped the situation.

But Mr Kertich insists the remaining number was adequate.

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