Questions about the safety of Botswana skies are expected to resurface following Friday’s place crash that killed all 33 passengers onboard Mozambican national airline plane that went down while under the control of the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB).
Investigations are underway to determine the cause of the horrific crash a few kilometres from the border between Botswana and Namibia in the Bwabwata National Park in the Zambezi region.
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 Authority of Botswana (CAAB) when it started its fatal descent. The 33 people on the plane included 10 Mozambicans, nine Angolans, five Portuguese, one French, one Brazilian and one Chinese national.
The accident comes a few months after reports that passengers of aeroplanes which are plying Botswana’s dangerous skies are flying on a wing and a prayer because the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB) does not uphold safety standards.
The first report by the International Civil Aviation Organization (IACO) placed Botswana among dangerous skies to fly and blacklisted CAAB following a routine inspection earlier this year.
Another investigation by the Ministry of Transport and Communications revealed that CAAB is disregarding safety standards and putting lives of plane passengers at risk. The report painted the picture of the country’s aviation sector as a disaster waiting to happen. It castigated CAAB for issuing dispensations to airfields that do not meet required safety standards. The issuing of such dispensations allows higher performance aircrafts to be operated at airfields that have marginal safety levels. “When this is coupled with extreme weather conditions in Botswana and financial pressure from operators, the environment became conducive for an accident to happen,” reads the report.
The report further revealed that the CAAB operational staff in Maun, who were in control of the Mozambique national arline plane at the time it crashed, “were newly recruited and inexperienced; most of them acknowledged that they had not been formally inducted into Flight Safety Division and were not sure what was to be expected of them.”
Linhas Aereas de Mozambique (LAM) Chief Executive Officer Marlene Manave said the plane was purchased brand new in late 2012 and had completed 2 905 flight-hours when it crashed. 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.
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 Sunday to assist and provide support to Namibian authorities with the investigation.
“We have mobilized 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 Monday we hope to have a clear assessment of the situation there,” said LAM Chief Executive Officer Marlene Manave Sunday morning.