More passengers would have been saved after the plane crash in Tanzania earlier this month if emergency workers had been better prepared and rescue operations launched more swiftly, a government report concluded.
Investigators said the cause of the crash was still under inquiry “but the possibility of wind shear (downdraft) cannot be ruled out”. The report issued Tuesday is the first of three due to be released over the next year.
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Nineteen people died when the Precision Air passenger plane carrying 43 people plunged into Lake Victoria on November 6, prompting a frantic rescue effort by nearby fishermen who were first to arrive and used canoes to pluck people to safety.
Police blamed bad weather for the disaster but President Samia Suluhu Hassan promised a formal investigation into Tanzania’s worst aviation accident in decades as anger grew over the government’s handling of the rescue effort.
Precision Air, which is partly owned by Kenya Airways, last week said it had started the process to compensate the families of those killed in the accident, but gave no indication about the amount due to them.
Delays, lack of preparedness
“If there could have been immediate rescue operations, it is most likely that more people would have survived,” the ministry’s air accident aviation branch said in its preliminary report.
There was a fire station in the northwestern city of Bukoba, where the plane attempted a third approach to land amid thunderstorms and strong winds just before 9am (06:00 GMT), but the 10 firefighters were not equipped for offshore operations, investigators said.
There was a single police marine unit that carried out water rescues, but it was not notified until 15 minutes after the crash and did not arrive for another five hours as it was elsewhere on patrol.
“The boat arrived at the scene at around 1049 hours (1:49pm local time) however divers were unable to perform their duties for lack of oxygen in the bottles” and insufficient fuel, the report said.
“Before the arrival of Police Marine Unit, one of the local fishermen started the process of recovering of the dead bodies from the wreckage.”
The report recommended that the government should “build adequate capabilities” for its search and rescue teams.
Most of the victims were in the submerged front of the plane, which had nose-dived into the lake, while the two pilots could not escape the cockpit. They were also among the dead.
A crew member unlocked a rear door with the assistance of a “muscular” passenger who helped survivors into the canoes and fishing boats that arrived minutes after the crash, the report said.
The approach at Bukoba is known for its difficulty in adverse weather conditions but the pilot was “very experienced” and from the area, it added.
But given the weather conditions – thick clouds, lightning, fog and strong winds were reported – the pilot “should have chosen to divert to Mwanza or to circle around until the weather condition improved”, the report said.
The plane was an ATR 42-500 turboprop made by Franco-Italian planemaker ATR.