Axed pilot crashed police helicopter
CHOPPER PILOT FAILED TO PASS TESTS AFTER FOUR MONTHS’ TRAINING IN ITALY
Pilot, engineer say they can’t remember who was flying Sh683m chopper that crashed in Mathare.
Pilot, engineer say they can’t remember who was flying Sh683m chopper that crashed in Mathare
The latest crash of a police helicopter was caused by an unqualified pilot who failed to respond appropriately when a marabou stork flew dangerously close, investigators say.
He pushed the wrong lever, members of the investigating team told the Star. As a result, the aircraft lost power, stalled and created a vortex that pulled the Sh683 million chopper down.
The crash 11 days ago of the newly acquired aircraft in Mathare was the fifth of a police aircraft since 2009. It was the fifth crash of a any plane or helicopter between August and September this year.
The toll raises questions about the quality of recruitment and training, among other issues.
Last Friday, investigators interviewed the four survivors. Investigators were drawn from the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority; the Air Crash Investigation Department of the Ministry of Transport; and AgustaWestland of South Africa, subsidiary of the Italian manufacturer Finmeccanica.
The pilot said to have been flying the AW139 helicopter, Inspector Dennis Oduk, allegedly said his colleague Inspector Martin Ndungu was in control.
The two were among six trainees out of 10 who were considered by the Italian manufacturer not competent to pilot the aircraft — only to be copilots. Four of the 10 were considered qualified. They received training in Italy.
Inspector Ndungu, undergoing treatment at the Nairobi West Hospital, and engineer Michael Kariuki, who was also on board, did not provide information. They are understood to have said they could not remember anything.
The fourth person aboard was identified as engineer Mandip Oshan, seconded to the Kenya Police Service by the Italian manufacturer.
Oshan is understood to have told investigators Oduk was at the controls and did not know how to respond when the stork flew near. It was attracted by the nearby dumpsite, posing the danger of a bird hit.
Members of the investigating team, speaking to the Star in confidence, said the account given by Mandip from his bed at Aga Khan hospital tallies with information from the flight data recorder.
FIVE CRASHES IN TWO MONTHS
The five aircraft crashes between August and September:
On August 22, a Kenya Police Bell Long Ranger crashed shortly after take-off from Wilson Airport. Two police officers in training were injured.
On September 8, a Cessna 210 crashed near an airstrip in Naivasha shortly after take-off. One person died, five were injured.
On September 8, the Agusta AW139 helicopter crashed in Mathare, injuring four people.
On September 12, an instructor and trainee pilot were injured when their light aircraft crashed in Kibiku area of Ngong.
On September 15, a Cessna 174 crashed near Malindi on a training flight. No one was injured.
The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority issued a statement that all these crashes would be investigated conclusively.
Investigators sent by Agusta presented their report on Friday to Martyne Lunani, Director and Chief Investigator of aircraft accidents.
A source privy to the contents of the report says the newly acquired chopper — still under warranty — left Wilson Airport and headed for Mathare. It was put on autopilot, and made to hover as the crew operated its camera, viewing the residential area.
Information from the voice recorder indicates the big bird flew close as it hovered. That’s when events led to the crash. To avoid the bird, the pilot tried to manually make the chopper rise using the lever known as the collective. However, this was impossible in autopilot mode where the aircraft cannot move up and down. It reportedly turned sideways and stalled.
A vortex was created, sucking the chopper in and down.
“Hovering out of ground effect, or HOGE, is an aviation term describing when a chopper appears stationary in the air. It generally requires more power than if it is on the ground. It is the act of the pilot pulling the collective that led the helicopter to lose power, making it fall to the ground,” the source said.
“In technical terms, the rotors should spin at 110 percent its normal rotations per minute. If it drops to 98 percent, alarms will go off, saying ‘rotor low, rotor low.’ When this helicopter crashed, it was down to 96 percent RPMs. You could clearly hear the warnings in the voice recorder and the panicked engineer directing Oduk on what to do,” the source said.
Lunani is said to be waiting for Transport CS James Macharia to gazette a commission of inquiry, at the request of Interior CS Joseph Nkaissery. This before acting on the findings of the investigators.
Before the helicopter was delivered in May, 10 pilots, including head of the Police Air Wing Rogers Mbithi, were trained in Italy for four months from last October to January this
year. At the end, Agusta concluded only four had successfully learned to operate the helicopter competently.
They were identified as Mbithi himself, a Mr Mwangi, a Mr Maina and a Mr Nderitu. The rest, the experts concluded, were only fit to be co-pilots.
Oduk and Ndungu, apparently pi- loting the helicopter when it crashed, are among the six who failed to impress the manufacturer’s trainers.
President Uhuru Kenyatta visited the Agusta factory in September last year, and was given a half-hour ride aboard the same chopper. The government wants to buy three more helicopters for the military and has selected suppliers, but has not signed award letters.
When the helicopter was delivered in May, two pilots and two engineers from the manufacturer were seconded to the Kenya Police for six months.
However, after only three months, the Italian pilots left last month following a disagreement with the police, the Star has learnt. One issue they raised was being pressured to take Kenyan pilots on night flights, though they had not clocked the required number of daylight hours.
“They [seconded trainers] were following the book but the Kenyans wanted short cuts,” our source said.
In March 2010, an Agusta helicopter belonging to the Uganda police crashed. It had run out of fuel.
TEN PILOTS WERE TRAINED IN ITALY FOR FOUR MONTHS BY THE MANUFACTURER. ONLY FOUR WERE CONSIDERED QUALIFIED PILOTS, THE OTHERS ONLY FIT TO BE CO-PILOTS. ‘IT IS THE ACT OF THE PILOT PULLING THE COLLECTIVE [LEVER] THAT LED THE HELICOPTER TO LOSE POWER, MAKING IT FALL TO THE GROUND’
The scene of the crash of a brand new Agusta Westland AW139 police helicopter in Mathare North 4 A, within the Ruaraka NYS camp in Nairobi, September 8, 2016.