Home | News    Thursday 30 March 2006

Garang’s pilot didn’t study route well before takeoff - report

Mar 28, 2006 (NAIROBI) — The decision by the National Insurance Corporation of Uganda to pay the government $3.4 million in compensation for the Russian Mi-172 helicopter that crashed and killed Sudan vice president John Garang in July 2005, has raised many questions.

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First Vice-President John Garang shakes hands with crew members as he boards an Ugandan helicopter at Entebbe International Airport on his way to meet Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni at his country home in Mbarara, western Uganda in July 29, 2005. (Reuters).

It has created the impression that the investigation have been concluded and a firm decision made.

When an entity that is 40 per cent owned by the government decides to compensate the state for such an accident, the inescapable conclusion is that the transaction was concluded with the approval of the government.

Yet new evidence suggests that the compensation was done without reference to the structures created to investigate the Garang crash.

Two commissions are still in place - one ministerial, formed by President Yoweri Museveni, and the other by Sudan President Omar el-Bashir.

The Ugandan commission is chaired by the Minister of Transport, Housing and Communications John Nassasira, while Sudanese commission is chaired by a former vice-president of Sudan, Abel Alier.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement was represented by Gier Chuang Aluong, Brig-Gen Deng-Tiel A Kur and Brig-Gen Aleu Ayieny Aleu.

At a joint meeting of the two commissions on August 18, they decided to create a joint commision co-chaired by both Sudan and Uganda and assisted by experts from Kenya and the US.

The Sudanese commission endorsed President Museveni’s appointment of Denis Jones, an American representing the US National Transportation Safety Board, as the investigator in-charge.

The other members included Peter Wakahia (Chief Accident Investigator, Kenya), Brig Jerobeam (SPLM), Kalistratove Yuri (Kazan helicopters) and Major Pascal Mangeni (Uganda People’s Defence Forces - UPDF).

The joint commission agreed that the investigations be conducted under the guiding principles of Annex 13 of the Chicago Convention (1948) to which Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and the US are signatories.

The decision by the National Insurance of Corporation of Uganda surprised many because the understanding all along was that no penultimate decisions would be taken without reference to the work by the joint commission.

According to Annex 13 of the Internationa Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), any compensation or criminal investigation can only take place after the completion of the Annex 13 process.

But in the Ugandan situation, the insurance company has rushed into admitting liability, calculated the level of indemnity and proceeded to pay $3.4 million.

The question that arises is whether the action by the insurance firm means that compensation for the 13 crew members has also been worked out or whether the widow of the late Garang, Rebecca, should now also expect to be paid.

Major disagreements may emerge, especially if the findings of the joint commission contradict the conclusions of the insurer in significant ways.

Although the joint commission has not indicated when its report will be ready, the Sudan National Investigation Commission - whose mandate expired on March 16 - is expected to publish its findings by the end of this month.

A draft report obtained by The EastAfrican says it work was guided by Annex 13 of ICAO. The draft discloses that the commission worked with experts, including surveyors, ballistic experts, meteroelogists and medical experts.

Included in the 19 member commission were Brig Riak J. Machur (SPLM representative in Uganda), Adok Gai (SPLM communication specialist), Mohamed Abdalgadir Abdalla (explosives and propellant engineer), Abu Elhassan Ali Idriss (surveying engineer), Addelarahim Mohamed Almin (avionics engineer) and Mohamed Azeim Alnour (instructor pilot).

The report says that the team visited the crash site accompanied by officials from Kazan, the Russina firm that manufactured the chopper.

The team retrieved and recorded data from the voice recorders and conducted interviews from witnesses.

Was the helicopter shot down?

According to the surveyors’ report, the wreckage was found on the peak of a mountain of about 5350 feet high. The wreckage included the main left wheel, the main wheel tire, a fuel tank and part of the burned passenger cabin, the rotor hub, tail, tail blades, main fuel tank and engine.

The surveyors also found that the aircraft parts were spread in a rectangular shape in the line of the aircraft’s flying direction.

Nearby trees and aircraft damaged parts were checked thoroughly and no signs of fragments were found.

Additional inspection of all parts of the chopper that were not damaged nor burned led the team to conclude that no explovises were detonated.

The second finding of the report is that no anti-aircraft or guns were used.

Indeed, the draft report says that witness accounts confirmed that the troops in the area were friendly and without the capacity to bring down the chopper.

The commision found that the area is SPLM-controlled and that the only other troops were Ugandan Wildlife Rangers whose camp is located 15km away and are armed with Kalishnikovs (AK-47) rifles.

The UPDF forces were stationed about 35km away and neither gunshots nor explosions were heard when the chopper crashed.

The investigation also found that when the helicopter crashed, it was at a cruising altitude which, if one adds to the fact that flight equipment indicated that it was not limping, shows that the chopper did not have any mechanical problems.

Did the plane suffer technical failure?

According to the draft report, transcriptions from the Cabin Voice Recorder do not indicate any difficulty in the mechanical condition of the aircraft except for a brief moment when the co-pilot referers to its stability.

Indeed, avionics aircraft wreckage inspection revealed that when the aircraft crashed, its parts were scattered and located in three different areas.

The crucial parts dis- lodged from the aircraft were the main altimeter, with the reading of the last aircraft altitude of 5,320 feet from the mean sea level; the radio altimeter, which read 30 feet; and the gyro indicator, which showed an aircraft bank of five to seven degrees.

The conclusion from these was that the aircraft hit some trees at the edge of the mountain with its main rotor blades and then by the undercarriage. It subsequently hit a bigger tree with its nose and eventually hit the mountain surface with the undercarriage.

But one of the interesting observations in the draft report is that navigational aids such as the radio altimeter and the warning voice system only read "vertically to the ground." This shows that the chopper was not capable of sensing the vertical mountain ahead.

The other navigational aids - the artificial horizontal gauge and the engine temperature gauge - showed that the aircraft maintained the same level of cruising altitude and the engine was normal.

The depth of the impact and its effect on the surrounding trees followed by behavior of spreading of crashed helicopter parts shows that the chopper was flying with fully powered engines and high forward speed.

This leads to the conclusion that there was no technical problem to the aircraft until the crash occurred.

Was there navigational/ communication failure?

The draft report says that communication and navigation must be viewed from various perspectives. One, communication between the aircraft crew and Entebbe; two, communication between Entebbe and New Site; and communication between the navigational equipment and the aircraft crew.

The first evidence on navigation capacity of the chopper was given by President Museveni.

In a fax letter to the government of Sudan and copied to the press, Museveni said that the helicopter had recently been overhauled with some of the instruments being upgraded.

He said it was well equipped with the ability to show the pilots the altitude from the ground and the sea level.

The president said the chopper had a weather radar, advanced moving maps, a powerful floodlight system to avoid hitting trees at night and other site obstacles, besides an audio warning system incase you are approaching a mountain.

However, some of the findings of the investigations raise critical questions.

The investigators found that the craft’s enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS) could not detect and warn the pilot because the area just before the first impact area was steep - nearly vertical - and that would make a sudden change of radio altitude.

They also found that the radio altimeter and the warning voice system can only read "vertically to the ground," but could not sense the vertical mountain in front of the chopper.

The investigators say that transcrips from the VCR reveal four major things.

First, that almost half-an-hour before the crash, the co-pilot raised the alarm about the proximity to the ground.

Secondly, that at some point, communication within the aircraft was difficult. Thirdly, that communication between Garang and the cabin crew ran into difficulty; and lastly, that the cabin crew had problems understanding their equipment.

The darft report concludes that the pilot had not read his route carefully before takeoff.

He was flying at 5,300 ft while there was a mountain that was 6,000ft high.

The report says that evidence on communication from the aircraft to Entebbe revealed that 36 minutes after takeoff, the control tower lost contact with the helicopter.

Several hours after takeoff and scheduled arrival at New Site, nobody could communicate with the plane.

Communication between Entebbe and New Site also ran into some difficulty, says the report.

(The EastAfrican)