The commandant of the Kenya Police Airwing, Rodgers Mbithi, took the helicopter that killed Internal Security minister George Saitoti on a mysterious flight a few days before it crashed.
Mbithi flew the helicopter to an unknown destination before returning it to the hangar at Wilson Airport. He did not log the reason for taking the chopper in the flight register as required, the commission investigating the June 10 crash was told yesterday.
It was not clear on which dates the mystery flight was made, but Mbithi is expected to appear before the commission in the next few days to shed more light on this matter. Saitoti's family lawyer Fred Ngatia said the flight register only indicated that the chopper was flown for 50 minutes to unspecified destination but the pilot never indicated the details of his mission.
Prof Saitoti, his assistant minister Joshua Orwa Ojode, two bodyguards Joshua Tonkei and Thomas Murimi and police pilots Captain Nancy Gituanja and Luke Oyugi died in the crash. The commission of inquiry is headed by Justice Kalpana Rawal. A quality manager at the Kenya Police Airwing, Morris Ouma Oketch, who was testifying yesterday said the hangar where the chopper was parked prior to the accident was unsecured.
Ouma said the closed-circuit television cameras in the hangar were not functional and that it was also used to store civilian aircraft. He said the decision to allow the hangar to be used for parking civilian aircraft was at the sole discretion of the Airwing commandant. Ouma could not explain why a group of police officers made a last-minute cancellation of a flight which they were supposed to take on June 9 using the chopper.
Even though the witness said that they don't work on Saturday, documents produced before the commission indicated that a technician named Moses Mulinge accessed the ill-fated chopper and did a pre-flight test on June 9. The aircraft did not leave the hangar on June 9 despite undergoing a pre-flight test.
Ouma said Mulinge was in-charge of fuelling the plane and that he was made to understand that they refuelled it on Saturday before it crashed on Sunday. He said the department has initiated steps to improve security at the hangar following the June 10 tragedy. He said the steps include not allowing non-staff members into the hangar and ensuring that each person accessing it leaves their identification card at the reception.
The witness corrected his earlier evidence that he had seen a certificate approving a Eurocopter maintenance outpost in Nairobi. On Tuesday, he said the aircraft showed a warning light which indicated it had a defect. Ngatia demanded to be told why co-pilot Nancy Gituanja was called on Saturday night to fly the following morning and why the commandant did not choose more experienced pilots like himself or Captain Kuto to pilot the VIPs.
Ngatia also raised questions as to why an important component on the plane was replaced just ten days before the crash. Ouma said only engineers from Eurocopter were responsible for such crucial changes. The commission was told that other repairs were carried out on the tail rod and the external fuel pump. However, there was no written record to indicate whether the fuel pump was replaced. The witness said the aircraft was being maintained by a Eurocopter engineer at the time it crashed.