The families of victims of the June 10 helicopter crash yesterday objected to the presence of lawyers representing the police department and Kenya Civil Aviation Authority at the public inquiry.
Sources in the closed door meeting held before the start of yesterday's public hearings said the families, through their lawyers, raised concern on why the team of lawyers were appearing on behalf of individuals or institutions, yet these institutions are supposed to give information on the likely causes of the crash. Mayiani Sankale, who is representing the family of the late Internal Security minister George Saitoti's bodyguard Joshua Tonkei, had raised similar objections on Monday prompting yesterday's closed door meeting between the families' lawyers and the commission chaired by Justice Kalpana Rawal.
The lawyers are concerned that the legal intervention of interested parties such as the police and KCA at this stage of the inquiry would jeopardize the flow of information especially from officers who are supposed to appear before the commission. "It was all about the evidence. The lawyers wanted to know how the same people who are supposed to be giving information should be allowed representation as if they have already been accused. They are opposed to the numerous objections that have been raised in the opening days of the inquiry," said the source.
During the public hearing, a senior KWS aircraft engineer Simon Njoroge Mugo said he was a member of the technical evaluation team appointed to consider the tenders for the purchase of the helicopter. He said he advised the team that the American Bell 47 Bell model was easier for the police pilots to operate than the Eurocopter AS350 B3e. He said the American Bell 47 was a four-plated aircraft which made it easier to maneuver as opposed to the three-plated Eurocopter, which crashed on June 10 killing Saitoti, his deputy Orwa Ojode, two of Saitoti's bodyguards, the pilot and co-pilot.
Responding to questions by the commission's lead counsel Charles Mutinda, Mugo said he raised these points during a meeting of the evaluation committee at the Police headquarters on May 6, 2011 when the tenders were opened. Mugo said the committee settled on the Eurocopter because majority of the members felt it was more spacious and would ease the police work than the Bell 47.
According to Mugo, the committee had observed that the start engine for the Eurocopter was automatic as opposed to manual start for the Bell 47. He said the committee's observation was wrong since both aircrafts were digitally controlled. He said the decisions were based on the older Bell L-Series that were in use by the police and whose start was manual. Mugo said he advised the committee that the new Bell 47 was different and a similar model had been acquired for use by the Administration Police last year.
Saitoti family lawyer, Fred Ngatia asked Mugo why he had not recommended to the team the advantages of buying a Bell 47 rather than a Eurocopter, which had never been used nor serviced locally by any department including the KWS. Mugo concurred with Ngatia's suggestion that the purchase of the Bell 47 model will have been better because the police already had experience using the chopper.
He said some of the distinct advantages of buying a Bell 47 chopper was that it could be serviced locally and the maintenance crews were familiar with Bell choppers. Mugo said some of the specifications given by the police in their tender was the the chopper be able to seat seven people. He said the Bell 47 model met this specification. The committee however went ahead to recommend the purchase of the Eurocopter which could only accommodate six people.
He said the decision to go for the Eurocopter model was informed by a suggestion that it could be adapted to carry an extra two people by removing and modifying the co-pilot's seat. Evans Monari, who is appearing for the Kenya Police and Ken Ogeto for the KCA objected to Ngatia's questions when he sought to know why Mugo never recommended to the team to buy the Bell 47.
Monari and Ogeto said Mugo was only an expert with Bell choppers and had no knowledge about police operations and could therefore not make any recommendations on which plane the police could buy or not. Mugo said the safety record of the Eurocopter was never considered during their deliberations. He said he was only called into the evaluation committee for that one meeting when the team sought his professional expertise.
He said after that meeting, he was never involved in any further discussions and only came to learn the Eurocopter chopper had been purchased when it landed in the country. He said he learnt that the Eurocopter had servicing and maintainance centres at Everett, Rady Roy and Air Lease Services at the Wilson Airport. Earlier, a supplies officer at the Kenya Police Headquarters, Patricia Njeri Mambo had told the commission she did not know why the police never advertised for the tender to buy the aircraft. She said she was not aware why the department settled on two companies to bid for the tender.