Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Botswana Police Service ignored danger signs ÔÇô investigation report

The Botswana Police Service ignored ominous warnings that presaged the helicopter accident that claimed the lives of three officers on board two years ago, a confidential report leaked to the Sunday Standard has revealed. The helicopter crash killed Superintendent Keokeditswe Sobatha, Assistant Superintendent Shepherd Ntobedzi and Inspector Ricardo Mabotho in 2014.

The report details how the police service either turned a blind eye or overlooked indications that Sobatha was not fit to fly the helicopter. The report cites an incident at Kang village in the days leading to the accident when Sobatha was crashed the helicopter against a tree.

“The early warning signals indicated the PIC’s decision-making lapses, attitudinal and competency challenges,” states the report.

The report compiled by the Ministry of Transport and Communications states that its investigation discovered that some members of the Botswana Police Service senior management had wanted Sobatha grounded permanently. But the Police Air Wing Support Branch (ASB) “management gave heed to her pleading for reinstatement, returning to flying on 14 April 2014, six days prior to the fatal accident.”

Giving a background of the Kang incident, the report states that Sobatha had flown to Kang with other crew members. It says that after landing at Kang other crew members disembarked, she then decided to fly the aircraft alone in order to change the position/parking areas.

“It was on attempting to change the parking area that she hit trees, substantially damaging the main rotor blades. Realising she would not make it, she went back to where they had landed initially, but she did not report the incident,” reads the report.

It says “The PIC then proceeded with the mission and flew to Gantsi where she operated the aircraft with damaged blades for three days. The Kang incident indicated decision making lapses by the PIC. The decision making lapses cannot be ruled out as a contributory factor to this occurrence.” 

The report says that Sobatha’s conflicting statements and actions that day/night of concealing the true status of her night rating to the Air Traffic Control Officer ( ATCO) earned her the clearance to fly that evening and had contributed to this occurrence.

“The ATCO at Maun did state that before 1700 hrs, he received a phone call that was transferred to him from switchboard. In the phone was the PIC reported that they were going to depart for Maun after refueling,” read the report.

 It added that “The ATCO then realizing that it was already night time, he asked the PIC whether her she was Nigh and Instrument Rated, to which she responded affirmatively.  The PIC was reported to have earlier on that evening entertained the idea of taking all passengers back to Gumare in one (10 sortie, citing that it was getting late and that she was not Night-Rated,” reads the report. 

The report says that investigation did establish that as part of her reinstatement to fly following the Kang incident she had done other checks but not yet the Night-check ride, as such the PIC was not night current. 

“Therefore when the ATCO asked her whether   she was night-rated and she answered that she was, technically she was, but not current. But as a professional pilot (and PIC for that matter) she ought to have known the actual meaning of the question and thus should have been truthful and responded that she was night-rated though not current,” it says. ‘

It says the ATCO reported that the phone call from Gumare was a form of the flight plan, but it was not activated thus considered by ATCO as cancelled after 30 minutes.

“These conflicting pronouncements by the PIC, the report says exhibited the character that was not consistent with aviation safety. The ACTO allowed the PIC to execute her plan of flying back to Maun that evening on what she had said about flaying ratings,” the report says.

It says the PIC as the person responsible for major decisions, made a decision to fly to Maun at night knowing very well that she was not current and that she occurrence aircraft was not approved for IFR.

The defense counsel Malcom Gobhoza confirmed Friday evening that they have finally received the long awaited report.

“At long last I have finally received the report last Thursday. I am busy trying to make sense out of it and will take it from there,” he said.

Gobhodza said “as you might already know the report is not meant for public consumption instead the affected families are eligible to have the report and not disclose it to anyone as per the court order.”

He said the case is not yet over as the families have sued the police for damages and he “strongly believes the state will be forced to pay for damages.”

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