How reckless pilot crashed miraa plane in Utawala

A Cargo plane that was destined for Aden Adee International Airport in Mogadishu crashes in Utawala, Nairobi, on July 2, 2014. PHOTO | JOAN PERERUAN | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Plane recordings indicate there was a triple chime and two flashing red Master Warning Lights – an indicator of level 3 alert signifying a possible engine problem.
  • A flight officer who was in the flight from Wilson to JKIA – but was not on the accident flight – denied existence of the discrepancies despite data showing otherwise.

It was July 2, 2014. Time: 4.15am. A faulty plane – carrying miraa – was to fly the cargo from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport destined for Aden Adee International Airport in Mogadishu – a two-and-a-half-hour flight.

The pilot, 54-year-old Captain Harrison Okang’a, knew the plane had some problems – but the miraa worth millions of shillings had to reach its destination and within time. Some things can only happen in Kenya.

The previous day, Captain Okang’a had flown the aircraft, a Fokker B.B F27 Mark 050, from Wilson Airport, where it operated from, to JKIA.

During that short flight, plane recordings indicate there was a triple chime and two flashing red Master Warning Lights – an indicator of level 3 alert signifying a possible engine problem.

In the aviation industry, a level 3 alert is regarded as the highest level and includes fire/smoke warnings or a serious plane malfunction.

For the engine, it could signify oil pressure drop or engine fire – and no pilot could have flown such a plane before the problem was rectified.


But like in the matatu industry, some unairworthy aircraft at this airport are flown, endangering both those on board and those on the ground.

On this day, according to official records released last week, only Captain Okang’a and a flight officer who had flown with him from Wilson Airport knew about this technical problem – but, surprisingly, it was not recorded in the log book.

Thus, when another Flight Officer Sayid Abdi boarded the plane the next day together with Captain Okang’a, nobody told him about that glitch – again, it was not recorded anywhere.

The 22-year-old plane had operated for only 92 hours in Kenya and had been bought from an operator in the Netherlands – and ferried to the country in early May 2014 by its sixth owner.

It was a quiet night with calm winds as the Skyward International Aviation-operated Fokker aircraft prepared to leave JKIA and deliver the delicate miraa cargo to Mogadishu, just before sunrise.

During the flight from Wilson to JKIA, the previous day, the crew had noticed some malfunction with the plane and “some aural warning sounds” were recorded from the cockpit.

“This particular aural warning sounded on both the previous positioning flight and on the fateful flight the next day,” says a newly-published final report.


Why the crew did not abandon the flight is not known – but it shows the sloppiness that Kenyans are put through by some private operators.

Also, it casts doubts on the certificate of airworthiness that was issued by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) — and whether we have any more of such slackness in the sector.

We have had several near air mishaps recently. If you want to know the carelessness exhibited by both crew and aircraft owners, continue reading this story of 5Y-CET, which crashed into a building in Utawala. The report is finally out.

Investigators were shocked that the pilot ignored a “three-chime alert” that had sounded before take-off, signalling a fault. “It is not clear why the crew elected to proceed with the flight under those circumstances.”

Records indicate that the three-chime alert occurred “before V1” – meaning the time before a pilot "commits to speed and fly".

Also, why the pilots did not record the noted anomalies in the technical logbook, the previous day, and why the maintenance action taken was not listed is not known.

What is known, according to the investigators and technical data retrieved from the flight data recorder, is that the crew “spent considerable time trying to troubleshoot” the plane.

But when officials of the airline were asked about it, they “denied knowledge of any anomalies during the said flight”.


A flight officer who was in the flight from Wilson to JKIA – but was not on the accident flight – denied existence of the discrepancies despite data showing otherwise.

“Further, on the CVR playback of the positioning flight, a crew member indicated that a similar alert had occurred on at least two occasions previously,” notes the report.

Another poser was whether the aircraft was overloaded with miraa, with the final report saying that there “is evidence to suggest that the aircraft might have been operating outside weight limitations at the time of the accident”.

While the aircraft load sheets showed that the maximum weight on board never exceeded 5 tonnes, Skyward International Ltd, the operator, failed to provide the investigators with load sheets of its other aircraft that left the airport that night.

They, perhaps, knew that the plane was overloaded and this would have complicated its insurance issue.

Again, “the system used by the operator for documenting the cargo and aircraft weights was via non-serialised load sheets”, and thus it was not easy to know how much of cargo was carried.

The investigators also found that the system used by the warehouse agent, where the miraa was stored, was not descriptive enough to determine the actual cargo weight loaded on each aircraft.


Although three planes left with miraa that night, only two Air Way Bills were issued – one for 5.3 tonnes and the other for 7.9 tonnes.

While the miraa cargo collected at the scene of accident weighed 5,550kg – and some of it had been stolen – the load sheet indicated that it carried only 5,000 kilos, which was a lie.

Again, only 70 per cent of the cargo at the scene was carried by the investigators and it appears that the plane was overloaded by more than 1,000 kilos.

“It is estimated that 0.5–1.5 tonnes was left on site and not weighed. It is further estimated that some of the cargo was pilfered at the site before the arrival of security personnel. That notwithstanding, the cargo that was actually weighed was 0.5 tonnes in excess of what was stated in the flight load sheet,” says the final report indicating that the plane was actually overloaded.

The plane had been allowed to use runway 06 and the flight was cleared to take off at 4.15am.

But after 16 seconds of the initial engine acceleration, the first of a series of three chimes – the same warning signs that had occurred the previous day – occurred and continued throughout.

“You see … how much is that?” The captain asked the flight officer.

“Okay, niner,” he replied.

Captain: It has got to?

Flight officer: “Thirty four thirty ninety two” and shortly afterward “the left one is thirty.”

Captain: “Do we abort or continue?”


After some initial attempt to accelerate, the Captain remarked: “It is not giving power.”

But rather than abort, a transition of the aeroplane from ground to air mode is recorded and the pressure altitude began to climb.

The flight officer then called out “positive rate of climb” and the Capt responded “gear up”.

About three seconds later, the Captain made an exclamation: “It doesn’t have … it’s on one side.” About six seconds afterwards, the FO said, “we can also turn back.”

By this time, the plane was heading towards Utawala side of Nairobi. Had they decided to turn back, chances are that they could have made an emergency landing inside the airport.

But the pilot ignored the first GPWS warning “don’t sink”, saying “ok … we are ok …” But after the third GPWS alert, the FO said “we can turn back” and the Capt immediately responded, “let’s just go,” The FO replied “okay”.

The JKIA Control Tower noticed that the plane was having problems with its speed and contacted the pilot.

“Tell him … tell him we have no power,” the pilot tells the flight officer.


But before he could communicate, the plane crashed “belly up” into a building in Utawala and burst into flames – killing the four crew members on board. The flight cabin itself did not catch fire.

The investigators found that engine 1 had a problem exhibiting “high torque values” and while on air, the crew had thought of turning back but then decided to continue with the journey crashing about 2.1 kilometres north-northeast of the runway departure end.

The crash of 5Y-CET is perhaps the best indicator of how some private airline companies operate and on the role played by KCAA.

[email protected] @johnkamau1