On February 4, Kenyans woke up to the sad news of former President Daniel Arap Moi’s death.
Did you know that Moi’s flight to Australia was once delayed over a jammed plane door?
That was in February 2002, when Mzee Moi was held up at the JKIA for almost half an hour as attendants tried to lock the then newly acquired Fokker 70 ER jet, which was taking him to the Commonwealth Head of States Summit.
Fokker 70 is the same plane that carries President Uhuru Kenyatta.
On the ground was Warrant Officer William Mase Ng’etich, in charge of the technical 10-member team. They had earlier conducted routine checks and were surprised the electronic door could not close.
Ng’etich, now retired, recalls that “all the security checks had been done on the plane and Moi arrived at 8am ready to travel, the door was open and the engine was running normally. But when it was time for take-off, we noticed that the door had jammed, quick interventions were all on our minds as we stood on the runway.”
His team had earlier overseen the arrival of the jet from its hangar and ensured that all operations were well before giving a green light to the advance security team and the pilot that the head of state was now allowed to board the plane.
But due to the jammed door, everyone on board including Mzee Moi, had to alight and the plane’s engine switched off.
“Moi and the rest of the officials disembarked from the plane after our officer-in-charge went to the deck and enquired what was happening. After being briefed on the situation, arrangements were made and they were ushered back to the VIP lounge as I led the coordination to repair the door. The incident was one of its kind and we had to use the least time possible,” added Ng’etich who spoke at his home in Eldoret.
Fokker 70 had been acquired from Holland in 1995 and the technical team realised that the door switch might have overheated and required a replacement.
“We opened the plane’s belly and from our analysis, the door switch had failed to lift it up and close. Such an action deserved first-line service. Our air force team were motioned to fly the spare parts from Moi Airbase Eastleigh as we began to remove the faulty switch,” said Ng’etich.
The team on the ground were aware that there were spare parts that would eventually be used to replace the jammed door of the plane that carries a maximum of 70 passengers after liaising with the supplies office.
“The good thing about the jet is that there were components that could fit and all that was required was to fly them to the airport for replacement so that the plane could take off,” he added.
“We changed the gadget that had overheated in a record 30 minutes before allowing the pilot to fly. We were later informed that he (Moi) had arrived safely and that our repair mission had been a success,” recalled Ng’etich, adding that unknown to them, Moi took note and they were later awarded Head of State Commendations for their expertise.
“Planes, like cars, sometimes have mechanical problems and those tasked with taking care of the jet are supposed to have more than 10 years’ experience, coupled with intense studies. I am glad that I served my country well,” he said.
He added that “Fokker 70 is one of the safest planes and each time I see it carrying the head of state, I am delighted by the good work done by my colleagues in the force to maintain it.”
Our heartfelt condolences to the Moi family, friends and Kenyans at large.