13 feared dead as Air Force plane crashes in Kajiado
At least 13 Kenya Air Force (KAF) soldiers were feared dead when a military chopper crashed yesterday morning at Ole Tepesi area in Kajiado County.
The crash claimed the second highest number of lives after the April 1992 accident when a KAF Buffalo plane crashed in Nairobi, killing all the 46 occupants as well as six people on the ground.
Majority of the victims of yesterday’s accident were junior soldiers who were seated at the rear of the chopper and were ironically headed for a training session on survival tactics.
Sources within the military told People Daily that the accident was caused by poor vision in the dusty Kajiado plains.
The sources said that the female pilot, of the rank of a Captain, may have been disoriented due to dust and made a hard landing before she tried to lift off again.
She experienced what is referred to as brown-out, an in-flight visibility restrictions due to dust in the air, and could not see nearby objects.
“She might have experienced spatial disorientation and loss of situational awareness due to the dust,” the source added.
The co-pilot, a Second Lieutenant, survived the crash. Other survivors included senior officers who were seated at the front, close to the aircraft’s main door. The rest were seated near the ramp which jammed after the crash.
The soldiers were the first of the four batches that were to attend the strenuous survival training exercise.
The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) Spokesperson Colonel Zipporah Kioko yesterday said all the injured were airlifted to the Defence Forces Memorial Hospital, Nairobi, where they are receiving treatment.
She, however, did not reveal the number of casualties.
“Regrettably, following the crash, we suffered casualties. The process of communicating with the families to relay the information and KDF condolences are underway,” Kioko said, adding that aircraft accident investigators were already at the crash site to establish the cause of the accident.
A report at Kiserian police station, Occurrence Book (OB) number 9/24/6/2021, however, indicated that 10 out of the 23 occupants had perished in the tragedy.
“It was established that a military chopper Reg. No. M1 17E with 23 Air Force personnel on board and who were on routine training exercise within the area crash landed.
Among the 23 passengers, 10 are feared dead, 13 were rescued and receiving treatment in various hospitals; 11 passengers airlifted to Nairobi for specialised treatment while two are receiving treatment at Oletepes dispensary,” said the report.
But a highly-placed source in the military who sought anonymity because he is not authorised to speak on behalf of the Department of Defence (DoD) said they had lost 11 soldiers.
The source said that out of the 23 personnel who were on board the ill-fated plane, only 10 survived, with four escaping unhurt while six others sustained serious injuries.
Kajiado County Commissioner Morekwa Morang’a put the death toll at 10.
He said that as the chopper prepared to land, a large whirlwind occurred causing the pilot not to see the ground.
The administrator said the chopper was on its regular and normal exercises when the accident happened after takeoff from the Eastleigh Airbase in Nairobi yesterday morning.
Kajiado West police boss Vincent Kitili said 13 people were rescued and flown to Forces Memorial Hospital in Nairobi.
Eyewitnesses said the chopper wobbled for about 10 minutes before it came crashing down and burst into flames.
“We realised the plane had a problem as it flew over Erat shopping centre. It was flying relatively low but it was not steady, it was swaying from side to side.
We were curious and we began filming it,” a resident, Adolf Shapara, told People Daily.
He added that at one point it almost crashed on a herd of cattle.
“Everything happened so fast and within a few minutes, we saw some soldiers jumping off the plane.
The plane hit the ground and we rushed to rescue those who had jumped off the plane,” he said.
The chopper then burst into flames, forcing the residents to scamper for safety.
The chopper, according to eyewitnesses, crashed about 300 metres from a church and only 200 metres from a homestead with 12 units.
“It crashed just next to our home and we are lucky that none of us was injured. We would have now been talking about more deaths. Some of our young children are traumatised.
This was too close but we thank God we are safe,’’ said another resident, Dan Ntakusa.
The plane is said to have been headed to the newly-established Oltinka military training ground. Police officers secured the scene which was later taken over by military personnel.
The military personnel who arrived at the scene within 30 minutes cordoned off the area and ordered villagers who were milling around to leave the scene.
Several other choppers were seen flying in and out of the scene that was placed under tight security.
Area Governor Joseph ole Lenku yesterday said: “My heart goes out to the families, friends and colleagues of 10 KDF soldiers confirmed dead following a military plane crash in Ol-Tepesi Kajiado West.
This is very tragic and I join other Kenyans in praying to our God Almighty to give the bereaved families strength.”
A Mi-17 chopper is known for its efficiency and can climb at a rate of 8m/s- its maximum speed and cruise speed of such helicopters is 250km per hour.
It is easier to recognise the plane as it has a tail rotor on the port side instead of the starboard side and dust shields in front of the engine intake.
Its other specification is that engine cowls are shorter than on the Tv2-powered Mi-8 and it does not exceed far over the cockpit and an opening for a bleed air valve outlet is present forward of the exhaust. Reporting by Zadock Angira, Nyaboga Kiage and Christine Musa