The 7th of July 2018 would be no ordinary day for my colleagues and I.
We embarked on a recovery mission following the ill-fated Fly Sax aircraft crash that claimed everyone’s life onboard. This will forever be a memorable experience in my rescue operations.
Plane Goes Missing- the 5th of June
Initial news reports suggested that the plane may have disappeared in the Ngong Hills area. Being evening, with minimal information and no confirmation, we had to wait for further directions from our coordinator.
Day One Of Rescue- the 6th of June
Rising early, we assembled before departing for Njabini (Aberdare), where search and rescue were underway. In the biting cold, with minimal visibility caused by the fog covering the road, it was impossible to see more than a few steps ahead. We were approaching Limuru when we received news that one of the Kenya Red Cross E-plus Ambulance was involved in an accident.
We could only hope that our colleagues had been rushed to the hospital. Our journey continued, in unfavorable conditions and the weight of fear for our colleagues. On reaching Aberdares, we were advised by our superiors that, given the weather, it would be impossible to attempt a rescue operation that day. We found ourselves spending the night in the vehicles, as the chilly night gave way to morning.
Day Two Of Rescue- the 7th of June
Punctually at 6 am, we huddled, still unsure of what awaits us or how grim it would be. Forty-five minutes later, we received news from the incident commander that the plane was spotted at Elephant Hill, atop Aberdare hills. He then informed us that the only way to ascend would be on foot. No chopper would go because of the misty and foggy weather. He advised everyone to take caution. If anyone had any health conditions, it would be best if they stayed behind. Wild animals were also present, and some rangers were deployed to escort us and offer security. The trek would start some minutes later.
Feet clad in gumboots, hoisting stretchers, and trauma bags, we set off. Little did we know that it would take 6 hours to have the plane in our sight. By this time, some members of our combined rescue mission had withdrawn from the entourage. What had begun as a group of over 100 and dwindled to a team of about 10 or 15 persons.
With visibility low, we resorted to holding hands and short stride military-like marching; if anyone stepped too far, they could lose sight of the rest with ease. Often, the thought of giving up would sneak upon us, but our spirit and conscience couldn’t allow us. From time to time, we would loudly call out groups that had fallen behind to trace their path. External communication was impeded when some communication devices from different agencies lost network, but ours was still functioning.
Tired, fatigued, but still hopeful, we were finally able to see the plane’s first sight at 1 pm. Swinging into action, we first checked for survivors. We would find that, unfortunately, no one had survived the crash. After combing the scene carefully, we placed the bodies in bags. Believing it was over, we all let out a sigh of relief as the Kenya Air Force’s air evacuation was requested. Our brief moment of relief was discontinued when we heard the news that the bad weather made it impossible for the Kenya Air Force’s rescue plane to embark on the journey to our location.
It would be another tedious trek downhill with the bodies of the deceased hoisted on our arms and shoulders.
The Way Back
The journey down the hill resorted to us seeking help from a nearby village that helped us carry the bodies. It would take another six hours before we could reconnect with our counterparts at the bottom of the hill. One after the other, we sank to the ground with the mission’s weight finally descending on us. We arrived at Lee Funeral home rather late in the night. We had completed the grueling journey.
Having braved the harsh cold, the sleepless nights, and the uncertainty of our mission, we could rest knowing we did our part. Families of the deceased could now seek closure and pay their last respects to their loved ones.
Prepared by Edward Kapelito.
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