Painful lessons from the Aberdare plane tragedy
SEE ALSO :Farmers compete with monkeys for foodThe Aberdare Ranges was originally called Nyandarua, a name that never stuck. I’m quite familiar with the Elephant Peak where the ill-fated plane crashed. It is visible on a clear day as you drive to Ol Kalou or Nyahururu through the scenic Happy Valley, once you take a right turn at a town oddly named Flyover. Couldn’t it have been called “Driveover’’ or “Walkover?’’ Made public We hope an investigation in the fashion of the famed NatGeo’s Air Crash Investigation will be carried out to unravel what led to the accident. Was it human error, the weather or mechanical problem? Can the conversation between the control tower and the pilots be made public?
SEE ALSO :Institute rolls out Sh1.5b strategyWe were lucky to find the wreckage of the Blenheim Bomber that was on a routine training mission during the World War II. The remains of the crew were never retrieved, according to history enthusiast Tom Lawrence. We not only found some shirt buttons but also a rusty .303 machine gun, the plane’s engine that had nine pistons, and parts of the fuselage. One piece of metal had the words “Bristol Aerospace Company” inscribed on it. We still do not know what brought the plane down. Was it bad weather? Could it have been human error because it was a training mission? Was it mechanical failure? I guess we will never know. In another accident, a Lockheed Lodestar crashed in Kinangop on the eastern side of the Aberdares on November 29, 1943, claiming 11 lives. Rain and low clouds meant it was not found until January 1, 1944, as reported by Humphrey Slade (Former Speaker of the Kenya National Assembly) and Harry Shewen. Monty Brown visited the Lodestar site in 1953 while with the Kenya Regiment during the Mau Mau era and again in 2010, according to Tom Lawrence who gave a talk on the history of the Royal Air Force at Muthaiga Club last week. He also noted that 113 Blenheims crashed in Kenya between 1941 and 1943. Kenya provided an ideal training ground for pilots to take part in the Second World War, but the state of technology at the time and the weather might have conspired to cut their lives short. Some old settlers who lived around the area seem to suggest there are more wreckages in the Aberdare Forest. A Mau Mau veteran, Nduhiu Wang’ombe, who made the forest his home and is a nephew of Dedan Kimathi also told us there are more planes in the area. From 1942, planes have vastly improved navigation systems and are made of lighter materials such as carbon fibre. Engineers also understand fluid dynamics better. As weather forecasting has also improved, so has our understanding of human behaviour. This is why plane accidents are rare. The truth, however, is that no matter how advanced technology becomes, one thing remains constant - human beings and their limitations. The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi