Cameroon: Kenya pilot took off despite storm warning

The pilot of a Kenya Airways plane that crashed in Cameroon this month decided to take off in stormy weather while other flights waited for conditions to improve, Cameroon’s civil aviation chief said on Tuesday.

Cameroon has launched an investigation into the crash of the six-month-old Boeing 737-800, which plunged into swampy jungle not far from Douala Airport shortly after taking off at about midnight on May 4. All 114 people on board were killed.

Relatives of the victims have criticised Cameroonian authorities over their handling of the accident. Search parties took nearly two days to locate the plane wreckage, which was found less than 6km from the end of the runway.

The head of Cameroon’s Civil Aviation Authority, Ignatius Sama Juma, said the Douala control tower had advised the captain of Kenya Airways Flight 507 of the stormy weather conditions.

“Certainly, there was a storm problem,” Sama Juma told Radio France Internationale, adding that only the official inquiry would determine whether the crash was caused by a technical fault or human error.

Sama Juma said the captains of two other planes also due to leave Douala the same night both decided to wait for weather conditions to improve.
They left safely.

“The control tower gave all the meteorological information to the commander of [the Kenya Airways] flight ... but he decided to take off ... it was his decision,” Sama Juma said.

There were angry scenes near the site of the crash on Monday when Cameroonian soldiers prevented a group of relatives of crash victims from visiting the location because they said the accident site required further work.

The dead passengers came from 27 nations, mostly African, but with others from China, India, Europe and elsewhere.

Only one “black box”, the flight data recorder, has been recovered. Rescuers were looking for the cockpit voice recorder.

Responding to criticism that Cameroonian authorities wasted nearly two days searching for the plane 150km from the crash site, Sama Juma said the automatic distress beacon on board had stopped transmitting soon after take-off.

“When the crash took place ... we think the beacon was immediately destroyed ... it stopped transmitting, so that made precise location more difficult,” the official said.

He added the search was misled by data provided by a satellite tracking station in Toulouse.

Sama Juma said Douala Airport did not have a ground surveillance radar, which would have made it much easier to locate the wreckage. “It’s expensive to install surveillance radar,” he said.—Reuters

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