Was Professor George Saitoti Assassinated?
Despite the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the helicopter crash in which former Internal Security Minister Professor George Saitoti and his Assistant Orwa Ojode perished, the perception that the crash was a well-organized political assassination has persisted. In the Kenyan Parliament, MPs have openly alleged that the Kibaki government is trying to cover up the alleged assassinations by frustrating the new Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate the tragic accident which happened on June 10th 2012.
Charges have even been tossed to the effect that families of the departed MPs have deliberately been kept out of the investigations as part of a grand cover-up. Chris Briers and Tim Carter, two Eurocopter specialists who had been flown in by Saitoti’s family to represent them in the investigations, had to return to South Africa because of multiple frustrations.
The demand by the bereaved families that the wreckage be stored in a 4 foot container until they can be stripped, had also not been acted on by the government which had failed to avail Ksh 70.000 for the purchase of the container. In fact, Mr. Fred Ngatia, the lawyer representing Saitoti’s family in the investigations, had to intervene to prevent the engine from being transported to France for stripping while Ngatia also complained of lack of contact between the government and Saitoti’s family.
More seriously, accusations were also made by MPs that foreign experts from France who arrived in the country to help with investigations, have been so much frustrated by the government that they have had to return to their bases abroad.
Is there any real or circumstantial evidence which could point to a political assassination especially of Professor George Saitoti, a former Presidential candidate in the coming elections?
Just before the accident occurred at Ngong forest, there is evidence that Saitoti’s bodyguard, who was on board, had called the Internal Security Minister’s driver to inform him that he ought not to drive away from Wilson airport from where the helicopter had taken off because the ill-fated helicopter was on its way back to Wilson airport.
What this means is that the occupants of the helicopter knew in advance that the helicopter was experiencing mechanical problems and this knowledge could have prompted the bodyguard to make that lone last minute call for the driver to wait for Professor Saitoti, probably after concluding that the trip was off.
Assuming that this is the case, what the investigators may have to establish is what may have caused the mechanical problem that caused the pilots to take a decision to return to Nairobi less than ten minutes after take-off. The situation is even more intriguing because according to available information, the lady pilot Gituanja had test-flown the helicopter to Voi and back on Friday, the 7th of June 2012 and concluded that the chopper was in good flying condition.
Mechanical problem ruled out
If the helicopter was fit to fly only 72 hours before the ill-fated chopper crashed, what may have happened at the parking bay after the lady pilot landed it and retired for the day? It is reported that 2-3 minutes into the flight following take-off at Wilson, the helicopter began to wobble. This means that if there was any mechanical problem, the problem may have existed before take-off because why should a helicopter wobble immediately after take-off? The helicopter did become airborne but four minutes later, the pilots took a decision to return to base. They never made it because the chopper crashed two minutes after the decision to return to base was taken.
Under the circumstances, the question the investigators will have to answer is what may have caused the wobbling during take-off because it is this problem that may have worsened in the subsequent minutes causing the pilots to abandon the trip before the chopper crashed.
To be specific: “The flight left Wilson Airport in Nairobi at 8:32 a.m. in good weather with some fog and visibility of 8 kilometres (5 miles), Kenyan Transport Minister Amos Kimunya told ministers today in a live broadcast on KTN television station. The pilots lost contact with the control tower at about 8:38 a.m., and four minutes later the aircraft fell to the ground, he said”.
From this report, it means that the chopper began to crash six minutes after take-off. In summary, the chopper did take off and 2-3 minutes later, it began to wobble. In the next 3 minutes, four key events happened: A decision was taken by the pilots that they turn back; Saitoti’s bodyguard called the Minister’s driver to say that they were turning back; the pilots lost contact with the control tower; the chopper crashed.
The question which will have to be answered by the investigators is the kind of mechanical problem that could cause a chopper of that model to crash 6 minutes after take-off. The theory of a mechanical failure has however been dismissed by the chopper’s manufacturers who said that the chopper had the ability to glide and land in case of engine failure. To demonstrate their point, the experts flew a similar helicopter 3,500ft, switched off the engine and successfully landed it to demonstrate to the Kenyan authorities that engine failure could not have led the chopper to crash and disintegrate on impact.
An interesting piece of information, which will also have to be investigated, is the news that the last person to have used the helicopter was Police Commissioner Mathew Itere. According to these reports, the chopper landed at Wilson airport on Saturday, the 9th of June at 6.00 pm with Itere on board, all the way from Mombasa.
The Mombasa-Nairobi trip constitutes a very long distance and after landing at Wilson airport, no mechanical problem was reported on the chopper. That was a day after the chopper was test-flown to Voi (near Mombasa) by lady pilot Gituanja whose opinion after the test was that the chopper was fit to fly. Could someone have tampered with some gadget during the 14 hours that the chopper was parked at Wilson airport as part of an assassination plot and with the knowledge that Professor Saitoti would be on board the following day?
Majority opinion suggest that Saitoti was assassinated
Is it possible that a chopper that was test-flown all the way to Voi and back on a Friday and which successfully flew to and from Mombasa on a Saturday could suddenly crash within a span of 6 minutes after take-off on a Sunday morning? These are key questions the investigators will have to answer.
Assuming that the report that Itere was the last person to have used the helicopter is credible, the implication is that from the Itere landing up to the final take-off on Sunday at 8.32 am, a total of 14 hours had elapsed. If the helicopter was in good flying condition just fourteen hours before the fateful flight, what could have caused the serious problem that may have brought down the chopper?
According to an eye witness, there was smoke coming from the chopper moments before it crashed. Some conspiracy theorists have argued that there may have been an explosion on board which might have created the smoke. The fact that both Saitoti’s and Ojode’s bodies had their legs chopped off has been used to strengthen this theory by positing that a time-bomb may have been planted at a location below the area where the two Security ministers were seated. The view is that it is the explosion that ripped off the legs of the two Ministers.
Although this theory could be credible, it loses a lot of marks with the established fact that at the time of the crash, the helicopter was already returning back to base following the detection of a mechanical problem by the pilots. What investigators may have to find out is what could cause smoke to below from the engine of a helicopter soon after take-off.
According to some experts, this type of problem could be due to fuel overflow or disconnected wires. If two critical wires were disconnected, there could have been an electrical or engine malfunction which could ignite fire in the engine causing smoke to below out of the chopper in mid-air. It is understood that a sudden bellowing of smoke from the engine can also be triggered by a mechanical failure or a fuel leak occasioned by a raptured fuel pipe. Whatever the case, these are leads the investigators will have to investigate. If there was a fuel leak, was it caused by natural circumstances or a human element?
Obviously, there are many issues which will have to be investigated. In the meantime, conspiracy theories linked to assassination of Professor Saitoti will continue to fly. Any perceived frustration of investigations into the crash by the government will continue to be used by conspiracy theorists to suggest that the government has something to hide. As per now, majority of opinions which have been expressed in various media outlets tend to suggest that Saitoti was a victim of political assassination, either by drug barons or members of the Mount Kenya cartel or both. The task of the investigators will be to prove that this is not the case.