Pilots' error and runway caused crash, Muthoga commission recommends action against air company and aviation authority

(By DAVID MUGONYI)

Human error plus the poor condition of the runway at Busia caused the crash in which Labour minister Ahmed Khalif and both pilots were killed.

"The accident occurred as a result of a premature take-off leading to a stall from which the pilot could not recover," says the report of the team appointed to probe the February crash, in which three other Cabinet ministers, an assistant minister and an MP were also injured.

One of the pilots of the heavily laden twin-engine Gulfstream was unqualified to fly from rough country airstrips like the one at Busia, the report states.


The runway was too short for the type of plane – and the pilot was not experienced in flying it in such conditions, says the report, presented to Transport and Communications Minister John Michuki three weeks ago.

The poorly maintained runway was only 1,000 metres long, 300 metres of which were unusable, leaving the pilots with a mere 700 metres compared with the 1,200 metres the plane needed to take off successfully.

The 69-page report is harshly critical of the air charter company, African Commuter Services Limited, and concludes that the Busia flight was "ill conceived, negligently planned and carelessly executed".

It recommends that the firm's licence be withdrawn until it complies with all aircraft regulations.

It accuses the firm's chief pilot, Captain Mary Louise Anning of passing on the flight to another pilot because it was impossible for a big plane like the Gulfstream G159, carrying such a load, to take off from such an airstrip.

The inquiry found that though the pilots were medically fit and licensed, they were unqualified to fly into and out of rough airstrips with the G-159.

"The pilots were inadequately trained and not experienced in this type of operation," says the report.


"The flight to Busia, the chief pilot, like everyone else, agreed was ill-advised and dangerous," says the report, a copy of which the Nation has obtained.

Captains Abdi Kuno and Samuel Mungai died at the scene.

The plane, 5Y-EMJ, crashed on January 24 this year killing Mr Khalif and the pilots and injuring several dignitaries among them three Cabinet ministers, Mr Raphael Tuju, Ms Linah Kilimo and Ms Martha Karua, among others.

They were returning to Nairobi after attending an election victory party at the home of Cabinet colleague Mr Moody Awori.

Mr Michuki instituted a public inquiry into the crash two days later, on January 26, and appointed senior counsel Lee Muthoga to chair it.

The report is also highly critical of the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority which it recommends should strictly enforce air traffic regulations to avoid mistakes which contributed to the accident.

The inquiry report says although the plane's certificate of airworthiness was current, it did not comply with all the conditions required by the regulations.

For instance, the certificate of maintenance inspections, which is undertaken after a specified number of flight hours, could not be accurately tracked because documents were falsified.

Defects were not recorded in the technical log book as regulations require, uncertified parts were fitted into the aircraft and maintenance personnel were not trained and licensed.

The flight was also not conducted in accordance with approved flight regulations because it was negligently planned and executed.

It lacked many documents and those available were not approved by the Department of Civil Aviation, now Kenya Civil Aviation Authority.

The pilots should never have attempted to take-off, the report says and notes that their logbooks were "deliberately falsified" and did not tally with hours recorded in the technical logs of aircraft log books.

Since the chief pilot declined to fly the plane, the report says, the pilot in command who was told of the trip at the last minute may have been unhappy.

Both pilots might also have been under pressure because of the high profile passengers on board and they appeared apprehensive about the ability of the aircraft to take off from the airstrip.

In addition, the aircraft was not maintained in accordance with required airworthiness regulations.

The plane, the inquiry learnt, had a long history of accidents. On February 28, 1997, it hit a hut on take-off and damaged the left wing and on April 6, 1997, at Goma, Zaire, it killed one person on take-off.

In August 2000, while operating in Southern Sudan, it suffered a nose gear collapse, which damaged both propellers, both engines, nose gear and belly. It was repaired and reregistered.

Tests done to the Cockpit Voice Recorder in United Kingdom found that it was defective and the plane was not fitted with a Flight Data Recorder.

The Inquiry team recommended that the African Commuter Services Limited be suspended until it complies with all KCAA requirements for issue of an Air Operator Certificate (AOC).

Efforts to contact the operators of the aircraft were unsuccessful.

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