How Saitoti,Ojode died in the Chopper crash
When I got a text from a friend saying “Four perish in a plane crash in Ngong” I did not take it that seriously.It was about 9:30am. I thought its just the usual false alert we get in the newsroom. But to be certain I went straight to Twitter, a new source of breaking news for journalist.
And there it was Kenya Red Cross had tweeted that a police helicopter had crashed and killed all the six on board and not four as earlier reported. News started sifting in and it emerged that among the six was Internal Security minister Pro George Saitoti. My first instinct was to call my good friend Peterson Githaiga, Saitoti’s personal photographer. He picked the call but I could tell from his voice that he was in a state of shock, he confirmed that indeed waziri(minister) was in that police helicopter that crashed.
Being a Sunday,and a slow one at that, I decided to go and check it out. In the newsroom we say it better to go and bounce an invent than ignore it. Getting transport was a hurdle because all our drivers were off duty and the only available vehicle was taking a TV crew to cover Raila Odinga’s rally in Nakuru.
After bargaining with our head driver for sometime,all this while seething with anger because as a photojournalist I knew we were wasting valuable picture time ,we got a driver. And off to Kibiku forest in Ngong.
The journey to Ngong was fast and the driver advised us to use our safety belts,we were doing about 120-130kms/hour. On the way several police vans passed us with sirens in full blast. My worst fear was confirmed;indeed the ministers must have died.
Ngong town was in a sombre mood,they had lost their member of parliament,Saitoti, who was also a presidential candidate. We proceeded to Kibiku the scene of the crash. And on our way there we were stopped by police and the jam made by vehicles that had formed a long queue of about 7kms. Camera in hand I decided to run all the way to the crash scene,fighting the mass of people.
After sweating it out I finally reached the crash scene or so I thought. But it was the first barrier to the scene. Being the Internal Security minister and his assistant Orwa Ojode security was hyper high. I sneaked in just in time to capture the photo of Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka leaving the scene. But my eyes were more focused on the crash scene itself,I didn’t wait for Kalonzo’s speech.
When I arrived at the scene which was covered by thick thickets I could not see the crash site and police had totally cordoned the whole area. They were adamant that press time for taking photos was up. They even advised me to borrow photos from my friends which I objected to. But I charmed them for a whole 20mins my finger ready on the camera. When I realised I was not making headway I decided to sneak through the thickets and get a photo.
By then there was no crowd at the scene ,only senior crime scene officers were busy combing the area for clues. As I moved through the bushes without any warning the gory image of assistant minister Orwa Ojode met me. He was burnt out with one hand lifted as if asking for help. I recognised him because of the unique head features. The intensity of the crash finally dawned on me.
A few metres away the horror of the crash was there for me to capture. I froze momentarily before composing the photos and clicking away. The area was totally burnt out and the new police helicopters which was only six months old had been reduced to a heap of metallic rubble.
Four bodies remained at the actual point of crash burnt beyond recognition,one still strapped to a seat. There is no way one could tell who the victims were. Only the tail of the chopper remained intact with its registration number AS350 B3e with Kenya’s flag and the blue and white police colors being the only clue that it was a police chopper.
Flesh was strewn all over the place. Saitoti’s trade mark grey checked jacket burnt with a piece remaining being the only sign then showing the horror of his death. A police officer eager to show me the scene pulled me aside and showed me where the mathematics professor died.
Saitoti was lying about 10m from the actual crash point his naked belly facing up. His face could not be seen because it was covered by tall grass but his legs had been cut at the thigh. One of his hand was missing. It looked like he tried to run from the scene of the crash but without his two legs it was difficult to tell how.
I took the photos though I knew I would never use in my newspaper because of ethical standards.
The positions the two minister were only meant that their body guards tried to save the two. Saitoti unburnt body was a clear sign that his assistants tried to take him to safety but unfortunately he could not make it.
A few metres from where his body lay there was a bundle of notes some burnt but others still intact. Saitoti and Ojode were going for a church fund raising at the later Ndhiwa constituency.
In a short while the Prime Minister Raila Odinga visited the scene and paid his tribute to the ministers who he said were close to him.
Saitoti joins the growing list of Kibaki’s ministers that have perished in plane crashes since he took the presidency in 2002. The First was Ahmed Khalif(2003),Mirugi Kariuki,Titus Ngoyoni(2006) two years later Kipkalya Kones,Lorna Laboso(2008) perished in a chopper.
After the scene of crime officers were done with the work the Kenya Red Cross personnel were at hand to collect the bodies that were taken to Lee Funeral home.