Monday, December 02, 2013

Mozambique plane’s fatal 12 minutes

Members of the Police Special Field Force sift through the wreckage for bodies at the crash scene of the Mozambican plane in the Bwabwato National Park. Thirty-three people died on Friday afternoon when the plane, from Mozambique to Angola, crashed while crossing Namibian airspace. 

A Chief Air Traffic Controller in the Ministry of Works and Transport’s Directorate of Civil Aviation, Victor Likando, said it could have taken the Mozambican airplane which crashed on Friday and killed 33 people just 12 minutes to hit the ground from about 36000 feet (10 973m). 

The plane crash is believed to have happened a few minutes after 13h00 in Bwabwata National Park, Kavango West while en route to Angola from Mozambique.  Among those on board were six crew members and 27 passengers, of whom 10 were Mozambican, nine Angolan, five Portuguese, a Portuguese-Brazilian, a French and a Chinese. By yesterday afternoon, only 31 bodies had been found and flown to Windhoek. 

 Namibian search teams found the wreckage and picked up the bodies on Saturday around 09h00 – about 21 hours later – after calling off the search because of bad weather conditions on Friday night.

Likando yesterday said it took them long to locate the wreckage because they were not informed by their Botswana counterparts on time since the plane was lost while still in Gaborone air space.

“Botswana never told us. Whatever led to Botswana not telling us, they should tell us,” he said, adding that the works ministry had to call Gaborone and Luanda offices to check whether they had lost track of an aircraft.

Likando further said the accident happened in the Gaborone airspace even though on land it is in Namibia. It was for this reason, he added, that the crew had no need to contact any Namibian airport since it takes any plane, flying that route, three minutes to pass through Namibia into Angola.

Contact with Namibian airport authorities, Likando explained, can only be made in case of an emergency but this was not done. The Namibian understands that Katima Mulilo and Rundu airports were never contacted of any emergency or problems by the plane crew.

According to Likando, Gaborone was supposed to contact Angola to takeover the plane’s frequency monitoring but the accident happened just a minute into Namibian territory, adding that the problems of the plane started while in Botswana’s airspace.

The chief traffic control officer told The Namibian that from what they had picked, it took the place about 12 minutes to fall from 36 000 feet altitude.

Although Mozambican airlines are among those banned from flying into the European Union air space over safety fears, a statement from the airline, known in Portuguese as Linhas Aereas de Mocambique (LAM), said the plane was purchased brand new in late last year and had completed 2 905 flight hours when it crashed.

Yesterday afternoon LAM said the captain had logged 9 053 flight hours and his first officer had 1 418.

They said the engines had logged 2 905 flight hours in 1 877 flights while the aircraft had it’s prescribed check on Thursday.

A statement from the Minister of Works and Transport, Erkki Nghimtina, said Namibia has started an investigation into the accident and will rope in their counterparts from Mozambique, Angola and Brazil.

Officials in the ministry of works also said they are going to comply with the International Civil Aviation Organization rules which states that a preliminary report should be made within 30 days after the accident.

By yesterday afternoon, Namibian authorities said they had found 31 bodies which were all transported a military plane to Windhoek.

Commander of the Special Field Force Ben Shikongo confirmed saying: “We only discovered 31 bodies from the scene. We don’t know yet about the other bodies. It might be that they fell out while the plane was falling. We will have a clear picture after the DNA testing tomorrow.”

The bodies were flown to Windhoek in two separate flights at about 11h00 and 16h00 before they were taken to a police morgue yesterday.

“The bodies will be kept at a police mortuary in Windhoek. Family members can arrive later after the DNA testing to confirm their relatives,” Shikongo said.

Captain Ericksson Nengola, Namibia’s Director of Aircraft Accidents Investigations in the ministry of transport confirmed that they found the two black boxes and the two voice recorders.

An aviation officer who declined to be named described the scene of the accident as “gruesome” saying body parts were scattered all over the place.

This is the deadliest plane crash in Namibian airspace in recent times after the Boeing crash at what is now Hosea Kutako International Airport in 1968.

In the latter accident, which took place on 20 April 1968, 123 people were killed when a South African Airways Boeing 707 aircraft crashed after take-off. There were five survivors. The probable cause of the accident was later determined to have been pilot error.

The most recent other plane crash in Namibian airspace with a death toll comparable with the Mozambican plane accident was a high-altitude mid-air collision between a US Air Force C141 cargo aircraft and a German Air Force Tupolev 154 aircraft off Namibia’s northern coast on 13 September 1997. Nine people were on board the USAF plane, and the German plane had 24 people on board. All those on board died.

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LAM Linhas Aéreas de Moçambique Embraer ERJ-190, C9-EMC, Flight TM 470: Accident occurred November 29, 2013 in Bwabwata National Park, Namibia