18 August 2012

Kenya: Saitoti Copter 'Did Not Have the Right Gadgets'

The helicopter that killed Internal Security minister George Saitoti and his assistant Orwa Ojodeh was not fitted with appropriate gadgets. The commission probing the crash heard that test flight pilots at the Wilson Airport in Nairobi had reported a mechanical fault in the altitude horizon measurement component because it was not responsive.

Yesterday, senior Kenya Civil Aviation Authority airworthiness inspector Kinsgley Ongaya was at pains to explain why a component, the Vehicle and Engine and Monitoring Display, was installed in the aircraft yet it had not been type-rated on the same plane. The VEMD, which helps the pilot to monitor the engine's functioning, is among the six components earmarked for further investigations to establish the cause of the crash in Kibiku forest in Ngong on June 10. Saitoti's two bodyguards, the pilot and the co-pilot perished in the accident.

The commission heard that Ongaya, who inspected the ill-fated aircraft, never questioned why the component was installed in the aircraft after three hours of flight. The witness could not tell why he issued the airworthiness certificate despite knowing that the Emergency Locater Transmitter, which gives a distress alert in case of an disaster, was not coded.

"I did not see the conformity document and that does not fall in my department," said Ongaya. The witness also said he did not consult with the operations department at the civil aviation authority while issuing the airworthiness certificate as is required. During yesterday's hearings, questions of when the helicopter was assembled arose with Saitoti's family lawyer Fred Ngatia seeking clarification on whether Ongaya inspected the aircraft in August 2011.

According to evidence produced at the commission, that the aircraft was assembled in November and could therefore not have been inspected in August. However, Ongaya insisted that he inspected a Eurocopter with similar serial numbers. The lawyer used email correspondences between Ongaya and Eurocopter South Africa officials early this week to indicate that the aircraft was not ready for inspection in August last year.

He also produced another contract, which indicated that the ill-fated aircraft might have been manufactured for another buyer, but was sold to the police after the transaction failed to materialise. The commission was told of abortive contract by Eurocopter to manufacture an aircraft for another buyer in February last year.

Ngatia also used a Flight Folio and Defect report to show the assembling was completed on November 8 last to prove that the aircraft was not inspected on August 27 as claimed by Ongaya. He said the helicopter's electrics, tail rotor controls, stabilising and seats adjustments were installed between August and November 8 last year.

According to the evidence, Eurocopter itself indicated that a certificate of airworthiness inspection issued when the aircraft was completed assembly and ready for delivery to the police in first week of December last year. Ongaya, however, exonerated the police from any blame saying he was directly answerable to his seniors at KCAA.

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