Lake Nakuru helicopter crash victim’s father speaks as affected families separately mark the second anniversary of the tragedy
David Gachuki Mwangi, 56, sits thoughtfully under a mango tree shade staring at his daughter’s grave. To him the saying time is a master healer remains just that -a saying.
Exactly two years after her death, Mwangi says he has come to terms with the reality that Veronica Muthoni Gachuki’s final resting place is a constant reminder that she will never be back.
Majority of Kenyans may have moved on after an ill-fated helicopter, 5Y-NMJ, plunged into Lake Nakuru on the morning of October 21, 2017 claiming the lives of Muthoni and four others but her father maintains that the affected families are still traumatised.
Other victims of the helicopter crash that occurred a few minutes after it lifted off from Jarika County Lodge in Nakuru town included pilot Apollo Malowa, Sam Gitau, Anthony Kipyegon and John Njuguna Mapozi.
The pilot and Kipyegon’s bodies were recovered on October 23, two days after the crash, while that of Ms Muthoni was retrieved from the murky waters on November 16, slightly over three weeks into the tragedy.
The bodies of Gitau and Mapozi were left to the elements after days of searching yielded no fruits.
Attired in a red striped short-sleeved shirt, brown corduroy trousers and blue sandals, Mwangi is in deep reflection. He still vividly recalls all the details of the last conversation he had with his daughter a day prior to her tragic death.
On the evening preceding the fateful incident Muthoni was supposed to travel from Nakuru Town to their rural home but called her father to say she had a function to attend.
“Little did I know that that was the last time I would hear from her,” he says with a trembling tone as a severe frown envelops his face.
When we caught up with him at his home in Kabatini Village within Bahati Sub-County Mwangi was still ruffled by the fact that his daughter died exactly a week after celebrating her 23rd birthday.
“Her birthdays were very special occasions in this homestead and she insisted that I should not forget her then. I miss her. It is terrible to me that her death anniversary almost coincide with her birthday,” Mr Gachuki said.
He yearns for a day when all affected families will settle for a joint venue where annual memorial services for all the five victims will be held.
“Holding a memorial service at the lake’s shores is a tiresome and expensive affair. It limits the number of persons willing to attend the service and at the same time may inconvenience operations at the park.
“We are hoping to enter into consultations with both County and National government officials on how we can jointly remember our beloved ones without inconveniences,” states Mwangi.
He says initially owners of the aircraft and victims’ families had agreed on an out of court settlement that had been mediated by Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika.
“They appear to have gone back on meeting their part of the bargain. Following consultations between the affected families and Senator Kihika we resolved to pursue compensation through courts of law,” he said.
“That was not the route we intended to take, nevertheless we are still open to other ways of resolving the issue if they demonstrate willingness and work towards recompensing the affected families,” he said.
Kipyegon, Gitau and Mapozi worked for Senator Kihika. She described them as fallen soldiers who died in the line of duty.
“The crash robbed us of great, industrious and ambitious youth who were going to make it very far. I was really heartbroken by the news of their death,” she said.
Mwangi says that life without his daughter, who had started to develop an interest in politics although she had just completed a course in catering, has been difficult and her absence has been palpable.
Ms Muthoni’s father who preoccupies himself with growing vegetables and cereals on his 5 acre farm says he is impressed by reports to the effect that families of victims of the ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines plane crash of March 10, 2019 are set to receive Sh15 million from Boeing in compensation.
“I like the fact that deliberations that have led to the resolution have clauses that take into account the wellbeing of families and communities affected by the crash. It is also a victory for victims’ family in the sense that the compensation, does not take away a family member’s right to file a lawsuit against Boeing,” he said.
Mwangi also pleads with relevant government bodies to make the report on the crash public.
“We still don’t know what happened since we have not received any information two years after we lost our loved ones. We are also appealing to the court to fast track hearing of the suit in which we are praying for compensation,” he said.
He adds that Ms Muthoni, his firstborn, was the torchbearer, so the family is yet to come to terms with her death.
“Our family still grapples with the huge gap she left upon her death. It is agonising but we will find strength in God to have a closure and accept that Muthoni will not come back,” Mr Mwangi says.
Her portraits adorn the family’s living room, creating the impression that though she is gone; she is still with her family members. Mwangi treasures video footage that captured all the proceeding of Ms Muthoni burial’s day right from the morgue to the grave.
According to Captain Gilbert Kibe, the Director-General of the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, the time it takes for an aircraft crash report to be released depends on many factors.
“The period taken depends on the circumstances investigators face. However, the mandate lies with the chief investigator of aircraft accidents, who is under the Ministry of Transport,” Captain Kibe says.
KNA by Anne Mwale/Dennis Rasto