Why it took long for kin of plane crash victims to finally get closure
SEE ALSO :Hotel eyes more Ethiopian touristsHe recalls, “One fateful morning while loading we got news that Doula (DLA) Flight KQ 507 which we were expecting, had gone off the radar. This was spanking new 737-800 and she was just 6 months old. I inwardly knew it is was a roundabout way of saying it may have crashed awaiting confirmation of wreckage.” At first, Okwiri just like other experts at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport could not understand why it had to take 42 hours to confirm where the wreckage was, given that it had been overflying land. “I was later surprised to learn the plane crashed close to Douala Airport, a mere distance of 5.4km away. I asked myself, why did they take so long to reveal where it crashed yet it was so near the airport.” Generator to power it When the confirmation was late made, it came with horrific findings. The plane had disintegrated into small pieces which were submerged in a mangrove swamp.
SEE ALSO :Plane collides with swarm of locustsIn the meantime, a refrigerated truck, container and a generator to power it, had been hired as Doula had unreliable electricity supply. “The human remains that were recovered were stored in the refrigerated truck container and the generator would be on throughout the period. Doula doesn’t have very good morgues so this was the only solution,” recalls OKwiri. Six months into waiting, Okwiri narrates how one morning he was summoned by the then CEO, Titus Naikuni. Naikuni said to Okwiri, “Its now November our reparation efforts of the human remains have hit a wall and public pressure is getting volatile. Your mission assignment is get the bodies delivered to the families before the close of the year.” When told to go to Cameroon the following day, he protested: “I don’t have a visa to Cameroon and they don’t have an Embassy in Nairobi, all visa applications there are done through the French Embassy and getting visa takes a week.” His opposition was waved off by his bosses with an assertion, “we know you can go to Cameroon with or without a visa. By the way, here is the power of attorney.” The document, mandated him to commit Kenya Airways and he was assured that his employer would abide by his decisions. In Cameroon, the former manager says the repatriation team was not in a hurry to secure death certificates from the local governor and when asked when they expected to complete the mission, they gave a tentative date of the following March, one year after the crash. He later gathered that Cameroon was unhappy because despite losing 37 passengers, “nobody in the top KQ leadership had bothered for the last 6 months to empathise and help.” After many tense moments, Okwiri finally got authorisation for repatriation of the remains but was supposed to meet certain conditions. “We have to call a interdenominational church service in 10 days for healing and national mourning where all the victims’ families and the diplomats from the affected nationalities were to be present.” Within this period, Okwiri had to come up with logistics of bringing 114 families each with up to three family members to Doula. “The nationalities were from all over the world. I had to organise their ticketing and routing at the most economical costs as the company was already burning financially.” Further Okwiri was to brief each family the status of the remains of their relatives even where bodies were missing. It was a nightmare to organise the relatives who were coming from all the 26 countries. There were 37 from Cameroon, India 15, Kenya 9, South Africa 7, Ivory Coast and Nigeria 6 while United Kingdom had 5. Others were China 5, Comoros 2, DRC Congo, South Korea, Central African Republic and Guinea 2 and a passengers each from Egypt, Ghana, Mali 1, Mauritius, Niger Senegal, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Togo, USA and Burkina Faso. It was Okwiri’s work to ensure each family was met at the airport, escorted to a hotel and later taken to the site of the crash so that they could understand what had befallen their loved ones. “I had hired a hall to meet the bereaved families and to discuss various issues with all the 114 crash victim families members one by one. It was a long queue and emotions ran high. Some were screaming that allowances were low” There were instances where one family had more than one spouse and it was quite complicated resolving who was to get the $100,000 (about Sh10 million) each victim was entitled to as compensation. Cremated the bodies “If there more than on two spouses I made a note put the consignee the person the body was addressed to) as the parents or surviving parent and skip the spouses. This way I managed to absolve KQ from legal claims from victims who had many spouses." Okwiri recounted: “The Indians and Chinese were a bit tricky to handle as by their faith and tradition had to be cremated. There was no crematorium in Doula and we had to get an Indian resident and cremated the bodies in an open field,” Okwiri recalls. But handling remains of the crew was the most traumatic: “The last human remains I freighted were the cabin crew remains. Unfortunately the captain’s remains was never found. These were people I knew and worked with for decades. I draped the coffins in cloth and put roses on top that had flown in from Kenya. This was my moment of glory but also in many ways sadness.”
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