The mystery surrounding the identity of a man who fell off a Kenya Airways plane as it approached London in June has sparked what appears to be a cover-up by government agencies as the repercussions of a possible security breach at Kenya’s largest airport started to sink in.
First, the alleged family of Paul Manyasi claimed their son was still alive. Then the government agency in charge of security at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) appeared to be reading from a different script on what happened.
With the threat of losing the coveted Category One status dangerously hanging above JKIA, the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) maintained that it did not have any records showing that Mr Manyasi, 29 — the man identified by Sky News Africa correspondent John Sparks as having fallen from the belly of a KQ plane — ever worked for them.
This is despite pictures of the personal effects of the deceased released by London’s Metropolitan Police, including a bottle of mineral water manufactured by a Kenyan company, further confirming that the man who fell from the London Sky in June was from Kenya.
And Colnet Limited Kenya, a cleaning company contracted by KAA and where Mr Manyasi is alleged to have worked for, said they did not have anyone with that name in their employee register.
“Colnet is aware of the incident by way of fact that there were investigations carried out on the stowaway incident and the company has provided all employees’ records and information to the investigative authorities which confirm that there is no employee by the name Paul Manyasi,” said the company.
The issue came to the fore on Monday when Sky News published a report that Mr Manyasi, who, according to the report, hailed from Makhwabuye Village in Malava constituency, Kakamega County, may have been the stowaway. He lived in Mukuru kwa Njenga slum in Nairobi, which is not far from the airport.
Last month, British police released an e-fit photo of the stowaway hoping to have him identified and his family informed. Also released were images of his belongings, among them, a Sh20 coin, a bag and a bottle, which were found in the landing gear of the plane.
But in a bizarre twist Wednesday, the family identified by the Sky News report as Mr Manyasi’s said their son was alive.
The family made an about-turn and said that their son’s name was in fact Cedrick Shibonje and was at the Industrial Area Remand Prison after being arrested in July.
It is not clear, why they changed their story.
“Our son was arrested in July this year and has been in remand awaiting trial. We have no idea who the man reported to have fallen from the plane is,” said Ms Janet Khagali, the alleged mother of Mr Manyasi, from the family home.
This was contrary to information they gave to Sky News in Kakamega, to the effect that the stowaway was indeed their son. They even identified him from photos presented to them.
“I don’t know where to start or end because his phone has been switched off,” Ms Khagali had reportedly told Sky News.
According to the Sky News journalist, Mr Manyasi’s parents could not bear the pain of knowing that their son had died after hiding in a plane.
And despite admitting they gave an interview to the British broadcaster, Mr Manyasi’s family said the story about their son was inaccurate.
Mrs Khagali said she had spoken to her son a few minutes before the Nation team visited her home.
We were, however, able to authoritatively confirm from our sources that there are no records of an inmate by the name Cedrick Shibonje or even Paul Manyasi at the Industrial Area Remand Prison.
And to add another twist to the saga, a Facebook page belonging to a Mr Cedrick Junior, with similar images to those published by Sky News, had five photos, whose time stamp is July 21, a month after the stowaway fell from the London sky.
This has further added to the mystery as to whether Mr Manyasi even exists.
Sources at JKIA told the Nation that with the tough security protocols, it is almost impossible for a person without necessary clearance to access the airside even if they work at the airport.
As part of the rigorous upgrades at JKIA in order to get the coveted Category 1 status that enabled KQ to fly directly to the United States, KAA changed the entire security system at the airport towards the end of 2017.
Consequently everyone who works at the passenger terminal was made to use their thumb print instead of access cards.
This system change was supposed to prevent strangers from accessing sensitive areas at the airport using cards belonging to approved persons.
Companies contracted to work at the airport were made to request for clearance by KAA and make sure that the biometrics of their employees are captured by the system. They were also compelled to keep records of their staff when they sign in or out.
Those records are supposed to be reconciled with KAA’s records on a daily basis.
On July 3, a few days after Mr Manyasi dropped dead in South London’s Clapham suburb, Kenya Civil Aviation Authority Director General Gilbert Kibe told BBC Africa that the unlicensed passenger most likely had legal access to the airport and planes.
“Whoever it is most likely had access to the airside,” said Mr Kibe.
On Wednesday Mr Kibe’s phone was off while Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia did not respond to our queries on what the new developments about the stowaway mean for Kenya’s air safety record.
The fact that a person managed to enter the belly of an aircraft on an international flight undetected together with his luggage could have serious implications on Kenya’s air safety record.