Report: Differences between two pilots led to KQ plane crash in Cameroon killing 114 passengers

Kenya Airways Boeing Plane. [Photo Courtesy]

An investigation into the Kenya Airways plane that crashed in Doula Cameroon killing over 100 passengers has pinned the blame on differences between two pilots.

In the investigative piece aired by National Geographic channel recently on the 2007 KQ flight 507 plane crash, there was a lot of indifference between Captain Francis Mbatia and First Officer Andrew Kiuru.

Captain Mbatia is said to have been rude and intimidating to Mr Kiuru before the crash in a mangrove swamp in Douala, Cameroon on May 5, 2007 where it had scheduled a stopover.

The plane was heading to Nairobi from Abidjan in Ivory Coast.

The expose by National Geographic, Captain Mbatia had scolded Mr Kiuru for being slow, and at one point called him stupid during their flight to Abidjan.

 “What is wrong with you? Did you not hear the instruction?” barked Captain Mbatia in one of the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) recovered after the Boeing 737-800 crash.

“Don’t be so stupid, shut up!” Captain Mbatia shouted at Mr Kiuru upon his inquiry on what inputs to add as the plane approached 14,000 feet.

Investigators now say that the indifference between the two pilots led to the First Officers 10 seconds silence when the plane lost altitude, something that Boeing’s Technical Adviser Mark Smith seconds.

 “The first officer seemed to kind of shut down (after the exchange),” he noted.

Captain Mbatia, on the other hand, the expose added, experienced spatial disorientation in that he failed to differentiate between up and down; right or left which was caused by the inability to know the altitude of the plane which may have been caused by the darkness that hit the plane.

Mr Kiuru, who was only 23 then spoke when Captain Mbatia frantically said “we are crashing”, the 44-minute recording states.

The expose further states that at his age, the First officer was highly knowledgeable in controlling the plane during the stormy flight.

However, his only error was that he was deeply engrossed in establishing a safe flight path that he forgot to switch on the auto pilot despite Captain Mbatia’s call wile at 1,000 feet.

The flight had been delayed by one hour due to bad weather. It was expected to land at JKIA at 6:15 am but crashed an hour and a half after leaving Abidjan.

Cameroon Civil Aviation Authority says that the captain requested to be allowed to fly saying that he would turn right after liftoff to avoid the storm and everything from the take-off went well until when he released the controls thinking the First Officer had turned on the autopilot.

This is when the plane stated banking to the right and the captain had to take the controls all over again to level it. When he turned activated the autopilot, he did not let the plane adjust as he overrode the autopilot by taking over the controls.

The plane veered off, turned upside down and crashed in the mangrove swamp.

When the captain realised the autopilot was not on, he activated it. But he did not give the plane time to adjust and went ahead to fight with the controls, hence overriding the autopilot.

It was also discovered that earning 8,000 hours though his 16-year career in flying, the pilot was not conversant with the system and that he had lacking cockpit and insufficient practice.

The First Officer had slightly above 800 flying hours into his career.

Nine of those who perished in the crash were Kenyans while the rest were foreign nationals.