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Copter crashes linked to ailing police airwing

Monday September 12 2016

A police helicopter that crashed at the NYS in Ruaraka on September 8, 2016.

A police helicopter that crashed at the NYS in Ruaraka on September 8, 2016. Investigations show that the National Police Airwing does not operate optimally despite the billions of shillings that have been set aside to revamp it. PHOTO | WILLIAM OERI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

ANGIRA ZADOCK
By ANGIRA ZADOCK
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Technical failure could have caused last week’s police helicopter crash, raising concerns that the government could have bought a faulty aircraft, according to a preliminary investigation.

According to the police headquarters, investigators from AugustaWestland in Italy are expected in the country on Wednesday to establish the fault that led to the crash, just four months after the helicopter was bought.

Investigations also show that the National Police Airwing does not operate optimally despite the billions of shillings that have been set aside to revamp it.

At least 10 issues involving training, procurement, safety management, maintenance and airworthiness have emerged in the last two years that point to a poorly managed unit.

In the last one month, two aircraft owned by the police have crashed in Nairobi.

On August 22, a Bell 206, whose engine had just been overhauled, crashed at Wilson Airport during a training session.

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The instructor, John Kayanda, is said to have been dismissed from the Kenya Wildlife Service.

According to the records, the engine was overhauled in Malta by the Aeromaritime Mediterranean Ltd four months ago and at the time of the incident was in a good condition.

Mr Kayanda had been contracted as a flight instructor and the trainee was Constable Ruth Rotiken.

He had been in South Africa for about a year where he trained as a pilot and acquired a commercial licence.

Mr Kayanda had earlier worked for the airwing but less than a year after he left South Africa, where he acquired the instructor rating at the cost of the airwing, he left the service and joined the wildlife agency.

The mismanagement and poor pay has also led to staff exits.

Some of the best engineers and pilots have resigned from their positions, with the latest being one of the few specialists in the AgustaWestland helicopter who left for the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority.

SAITOTI'S DEATH

In 2014, police bought the main rotor system of one of its aircraft from suppliers in Ukraine that had only two flight hours left.

The system, comprising five blades for an MI-17 helicopter registration 5Y-EDM, was bought at a cost of Sh13 million.

The same year, the airwing bought a fake altitude indicator from an unapproved supplier, leading to at least three aborted flights. They were fitted on an MI-17 helicopter.

One of the flights had to be cancelled when a senior government official was already aboard, prompting the investigations.

The component, supplied by Czechoslovak Export Ltd in Czech Republic, is crucial and is used to inform the pilot of the orientation of the aircraft relative to the earth’s horizon.

Initially, two sets were bought but one of them did not work.

It was returned for repair but a different one – with a different serial number – was brought.

It also did not work and police had to order a third one, at a cost.

A commission of inquiry revealed that the ill-fated police helicopter that killed former Internal Security minister George Saitoti and his deputy Orwa Ojode had been fitted with a fake component, a prototype Vehicle and Engine Monitoring Device.

Reports indicate it was serviced by an unauthorised person, two days earlier.

The maintenance and service of the aircraft has also been an issue.

Investigations reveal that at least three Bell helicopters that have been serviced by the wildlife agency have crashed.

Questions have also been raised on whether the company that overhauled the MI-17 choppers was identified but Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery last year told the Public Accounts Committee that after the Garissa attack, the government had to move fast to procure choppers for the police.

The unit is also said to be training civilians, contrary to the regulations.

There are reports that two pilots who had been taken to Mombasa for the final part of their training before they could acquire licences had to return to the unit amid claims that the Caravan was being used for training civilians.