Lack of flight path information and bad weather contributed to the crash of a police chopper in Meru last year according to a report released by the transport ministry.
The police helicopter, AgustaWestland QW119 registration 5Y-NPW, was ferrying a regional security team to Marsabit when it crashed at Kaithe in Meru County on June 13, 2020.
Eastern Regional County Commissioner and regional Police Chief were among six occupants who escaped death by a whisker.
The investigation report conducted by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Department (AAID) identified the probable cause of the accident as the pilot’s lack of situational awareness.
“The investigation identified the probable cause of the accident as the pilot’s lack of situational awareness, and the decision to continue the flight into deteriorating weather conditions that occasioned spatial disorientation and subsequent loss of helicopter control” reads the report released Monday by Transport CS James Macharia.
The investigators however maintained that the pilots of the ill-fated chopper were qualified and had been certified by the KCAA to fly the AW 119 MK-II aircraft.
They further blamed the National Police Service Air Wing for not providing proper guidance on flight paths.
“The investigation further established that the NPSAW Standard Operating Procedures did not provide guidance in a number of areas, which contributed to poor decision-making and coordination” the probe adds.
The Aircraft Accident Investigation Department recommends NPSAW to review its training programs and operating procedures and access to accurate and to real-time aviation forecast weather.
How the chopper crashed
The helicopter had taken off from Wilson Airport with three occupants under Visual Flight Rules, landed in Embu where three more persons embarked before it crashed in Meru while enroute to Isiolo.
The aircraft made a precautionary landing four miles west of Ndula marker due to bad weather but took off again when the weather conditions improved and landed at Embu where three more passengers embarked.
The helicopter then took off for Isiolo to refuel before flying to Badan Arero. However, while enroute to Isiolo, the weather conditions deteriorated below VFR minima, prompting the crew to initiate a precautionary landing in Meru. The helicopter collided with trees in fog while attempting to land.
“The two pilots and the four passengers were extricated from the wreckage; two with serious injuries and four with minor injuries of varying degree. There was no pre or post-impact fire, but the helicopter was damaged after colliding with trees and terrain” describes the report.
The report reveals how the pilots struggled to take control of the aircraft despite the extreme weather.
“At one point, the weather conditions appeared to depreciate along the flight path at a distance ahead, prompting the captain to hand over the flight controls to the co-pilot, while he made various telephone calls to establish the weather conditions at their destination, before he regained control of the aircraft” the report says.
At around Meru area, the weather conditions deteriorated prompting the crew to contemplate landing at an identified field within the vicinity, but opted to continue flying hoping that they will be able to break through the clouds for better visibility.
“Within a short time, they were engulfed in clouds and decided to approach and make a landing in another location identified suitable for landing, with better but deteriorating visibility…. He additionally indicated that though he avoided the cables, the main rotors of the helicopter contacted the trees that led to severe vibrations in the cabin. The helicopter collided with two other trees before it impacted the ground and came to rest on its starboard with the main rotor blades impacting the terrain while still rotating” the report details.
The helicopter suffered structural damage but the cabin was generally intact after the accident.