RUNDU/WINDHOEK – Investigations are underway to determine what precisely caused the horrific plane crash that killed all 33 people aboard the Mozambican national airline plane that went down in the Bwabwata National Park in the Zambezi Region on Friday afternoon.
The plane went missing on Friday mid-day, but the Namibian police only managed to locate the wreckage late on Friday afternoon a few kilometres from the border between Namibia and Botswana, in the Bwabwata National Park, and had to guard the scene from lions and other predators until the arrival of inspectors of the Directorate of Civil Aviation the next day.
“We could not really tell how many people were on board [at the time], because it was just bodies and plane parts scattered all over the place. All the bodies were shredded to pieces, it was an ugly scene because none of the bodies were
[intact],” said Regional Crime Investigations Coordinator, Deputy Commissioner Willie Bampton, who was one of the emergency and security personnel first to arrive at the scene. Namibia’s aircraft accident investigation unit is leading the investigation, which comprises of seasoned investigators from civil aviation authorities from Mozambique, Angola, Brazil and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent United States federal agency. Mozambique’s national airline, Linhas Aereas de Mozambique (LAM), has also sent its own response team yesterday to assist and provide support to Namibian authorities with the investigation.
“We have mobilised Kenyon International, a global specialist disaster and emergency management organisation to assist in the search and recovery of the victims remains and also their personal possessions. For the families, this is important, as it will enable the positive identification of each person who was on the aircraft. The Kenyon team is en-route from the UK to the accident site and by tomorrow we hope to have a clear assessment of the situation there,” said LAM Chief Executive Officer Marlene Manave yesterday morning.
According to senior investigators on the ground, information available so far indicate that the Embraer 190 aircraft started descending uncontrollably from 38 000 feet at about 13h09 on Friday, while still within Botswana airspace until it hit the ground. Flight TM 470 was a scheduled service from Maputo to Luanda, carrying 27 passengers and six crewmembers. The 93-seater plane was still under the control of the civil aviation authorities in Botswana when it started its fatal descend. The 33 people on the plane included 10 Mozambicans, nine Angolans, five Portuguese, one French, one Brazilian and one Chinese national. The remains of the deceased were transported to the Rundu State Hospital mortuary on Saturday evening and flown to Windhoek yesterday morning aboard a Namibian Air Force aircraft.
The accident took place at a time that African countries are working hard to shed off the negative reputation of accident-prone African airlines, the majority of which are still banned from flying over European Union airspace due to stringent EU safety standards. Currently there are only five African countries and their airlines, which are permitted to fly over European airspace, of which Namibia is one.
Linhas Aereas de Mozambique (LAM) said the plane was purchased brand new in late 2012 and had completed 2 905 flight-hours when it crashed. Bampton said the aircraft skidded over 500 metres on the ground before coming to a standstill. “If it was not for the trees and bushes in the area the plane might have skidded further over the ground,” said the deputy commissioner. The Mozambican government said it would declare a period of national mourning for the victims. Yesterday the Namibian government also extended its condolences to the government of Mozambique and the bereaved families. The Minister of Works and Transport, Erkki Nghimtina, said there were no casualties on the ground and indicated that the names of the deceased cannot be released until their next of kin have been informed.
The Minister of Safety and Security, Immanuel Ngatjizeko, who was at the site on Saturday afternoon, described the accident as horrendous. “What more can one say with destruction such as this, it is a loss for the people of Mozambique and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). I understand there were minors on the plane,” said Ngatjizeko. He also explained that he had to visit the accident scene in order that he could brief President Hifikepunye Pohamba as to what transpired. “Investigations must be done as soon as possible, but of course we want it to be done properly,” Ngatjizeko said. LAM has also expressed its condolences to the bereaved families. “At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew who were on board the aircraft and it is their well-being and taking care of their immediate needs that is and must take priority,” Manave said in a statement yesterday morning. As an initial form of assistance, LAM has established family liaison centres in the Maputo and Luanda airports. At the same time, the airline is also providing advice to the families about the international legal processes that have to be followed following a fatal air accident.
LAM further says the aircraft was manufactured in Brazil and was powered by two General Electric CF34-10 turbofan engines. It was delivered brand new from the factory and entered service with LAM on November 17, 2012, said the airline. “Until yesterday [Friday accident], the aircraft had logged 2 905 flight-hours in 1 877 flights,” Manave said.
By Mathias Haufiku and Fifi Rhodes