Air traffic controllers at Wilson Airport believe the pilot of a plane that crashed in the Aberdare Ranges last week, killing all ten on board, was misled by flight controllers at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.The mistake, known in aviation circles as Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT), happens when an airworthy aircraft, under pilot control, crashes as a result of poor communication from a control tower. On Monday, accident investigators will return to the crash site in Njabini to retrieve the wreckage from the rocky range as another team pores through air traffic control tapes at JKIA. The findings of both teams could shed more light onto the claims by the Wilson team.
The 22-year-old plane was enroute to Nairobi from Kitale last Tuesday when it smashed into the mountain range at around 5pm in bad weather, killing all its eight passengers and two crew.The Nation has established that Captain Barbara Wangeci, 28, radioed the control tower and was advised to land at JKIA from the Utawala side. However, she was not familiar with the route as she had always landed at Wilson Airport, and so the control tower at JKIA promised to help her navigate the Aberdare Forest towards a fix position known as Avena, and onwards towards JKIA, where she was to land on runway 24. Ms Wangeci was flying at 11,000ft when she turned towards the mountain as instructed. Satima, the highest peak of the Aberdares, stood in her way at 13,120ft, while Elephant Hill, where the plane crashed, towered over her at 12,815 feet. With the fog blinding her, Ms Wangeci did not realise she was flying towards an outcrop.
"The last instruction was to route the Cessna to fix position Avena, which is 12 nautical miles from runway 24," a source told us yesterday. In order to comply with the new instructions, and despite the poor visibility, Ms Wangeci turned towards the left, and "that explains why the aircraft crashed at 9,500 feet since she had not started the descent, as instructed". All odds, therefore, were stacked against Ms Wangeci, and her fate and that of her passengers were sealed by the fact that the Cessna Caravan she was flying does not have a moving map display to give her the actual location and warn her of any nearby outcrops. The reason the control tower at JKIA did not foresee this is among the clues crash investigators will be looking at. But, at Wilson, officials are categorical that this was a "clear case of CFIT".
Cessna Caravans are non pressurised, and because of that require a descent of 500 feet per minute for the comfort and health of passengers. That means Ms Wangeci had only 27 miles to lose some 3,000 feet in order to land at JKIA, and the aviators at Wilson say that after she turned left and began her descent, she crashed within two to three minutes, at 9,500 feet.While there is no preliminary report on the crash, the Kenya Airline Pilots Association has called for a comprehensive technical investigation into the circumstances of the accident.In a statement by its chief executive officer, Mr Murithi Nyaga, the association said that the probe should strictly follow the provisions laid out in the International Standards and Recommended Practices guidelines. Mr Nyaga urged the public to "avoid unnecessary speculation" and allow the investigation agencies time carry out their task.