Plane Crashes That Changed Kenyan History

A photo of the wreckage of the helicopter that crashed into Lake Nakuru in October 2017 claiming the lives of five people being retrieved from the water.
The wreckage of the helicopter that crashed into Lake Nakuru in October 2017 claiming the lives of five people being retrieved from the water.
Daily Nation

The aftermath of four fatal crashes involving various types of planes has shaken Kenya's aviation industry and prompted a new reflection on how air travel can reshape a nation's destiny.  

The National Police Service helicopter that crashed on Saturday, June 13, rekindled memories which many would want to forget, leading to new scrutiny on the safety of aircraft cleared by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) to operate on the Kenyan airspace. 

When commenting on the police chopper that crashed in Meru County while flying security offiials to Marsabit for a peace initiative, Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i lamented that the "peace initiatives have claimed so many lives, especially within the Ministry of Interior." 

Six government officers were airlifted to Nairobi after surviving the helicopter crash that caused serious injuries to Eastern Region Security Committee, including Regional Commissioner Isaiah Nakoru.

A plane crash at Kaithe Kithoka in Meru County.
An image from a scene of a police plane that crash at Kaithe Kithoka in Meru County on Saturday, June 13, 2020

History, however, reminds us how tens of senior government officials have not been as lucky.

It's worth noting that Kenya's aviation sector has been relatively safe, with the country's national carrier, Kenya Airways, suffering only two mass casualty plane crashes in its history. 

Government officials

There is, however, a worrying a streak of loss of life from helicopter crashes that can be dated back to 1978 when then-Agriculture Minister Bruce Mackenzie, was killed when a plane he was travelling in crashed in Ngong' Hills.

Then Ngong Hills became the blind spot that would on June 10, 2012, claim the life of another Minister and his deputy. Once again, the aviation accident involved a Kenya Police helicopter. 

The Eurocopter AS350 crashed on the hill, killing all six people on board. Among the fatalities were the-Kenya's Internal Security Minister George Saitoti and his Assistant Minister Joshua Orwa Ojode.

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The aircraft was on a flight from Nairobi to Ratang’a village in Ndhiwa Constituency, Homa Bay County. The two ministers on board – Interior Security Minister George Saitoti, who had announced his intention to run for Kenya's presidency, and Assistant Minister Joshua Orwa Ojode – had planned to attend a fundraising event at the Nyarongi Catholic Church. 

Saitoti and Ojode were not the first Cabinet Members of President Mwai Kibaki to die in a plane crash. 

In 2006, a Kenya military cargo plane carrying a high-level delegation on a peace mission crashed as it attempted to land in bad weather in Marsabit, killing 14 people, including 5 members of Parliament.

Luckily three people aboard the Chinese-made Y-12 aircraft were rescued from the crash site, on a hillside near Marsabit Town. One additional passenger was recovered from the fiery wreckage but died en route to Nairobi for treatment.

"This is the worst tragedy to hit the National Assembly," said then-Speaker Francis ole Kaparo while announcing the adjournment of Parliament until all the deceased were buried. "We have lost a lot of good people."

Among them were Bonaya Godana, a veteran politician and constitutional scholar who was Deputy Leader of the Opposition Kenyan African National Union (KANU). In the regime of former President Daniel arap Moi, Mr. Godana served as Foreign Minister and Agriculture Minister, among other posts.

Police Choppers

Of all the planes crashes in the country, Kenya Police choppers have had the highest of falls from the sky. 

On September 8, 2016, Kenya Police helicopter Augusta-AW 139, valued at Ksh2.2 Billion, crashed in Nairobi's Mathare Estate, injuring three officers on board. 

On August 15, 2018, Kenya Police MI-17 helicopter crashed in Boni forest, just five months after being launched by CS Matiang'i. 

On November 2, 19, Kenya Police MI-17 HIP helicopter crashed at Wilson Airport, but no one was injured in the accident. 

On February 18, 2020, the National Assembly Public Accounts Committee probed what was described as the inflation by Ksh 900 million in the purchase for the three helicopters, which were initially valued at Ksh4 Billion but the interior ministry ended up paying Ksh4.9 Billion.

Suspicious Expenditure 

Appearing before the committee chaired by Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, Interior PS Karanja Kibicho submitted that the extra cost was incurred because the technical committee tasked with coming up with specifications of the new aircraft failed to factor in additional features.

The wreckage of a Kenyan plane
The wreckage of a Kenyan plane

He said, instead, the team had only cut and pasted the specifications of previous helicopters that the ministry had, yet they required new helicopters with additional features.

“However, during negotiations carried out on May 8, 2017, the total cost of the tender went up from the original bid price of €31, 941, 200 to €7, 182, 157 (906, 100, 927) contrary to tender evaluation committee recommendation for negotiation to lower the price without compromising the technical specifications in the tender,” he said.

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