By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (AA) – A combination of bad weather and the lack of an air traffic control tower at Bukoba Airport likely caused the recent crash of a passenger plane in Tanzania’s Lake Victoria, according to a preliminary investigation report.
A Precision Air plane coming from the commercial hub Dar es Salaam fell into Lake Victoria in the early hours of Nov. 6, killing 19 people.
Of the 43 people on board – 39 passengers, two pilots, and two cabin crew – there were 24 survivors.
Bukoba Airport is located on the shore of Lake Victoria, with its runway just a few hundred meters from the water.
Weather conditions at the airport “abruptly changed due to heavy rains, strong winds and thunderstorms … reducing visibility from 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) to 2 kilometers (1.2 miles),” according to a report from the Air Accident Investigation Branch of Tanzania’s Works and Transport Ministry.
It also pointed out that “there is no control tower at Bukoba Airport.”
“The aircraft circled around for about 20 minutes hoping that weather would eventually improve,” the report said.
However, survivors told investigators that visibility remarkably improved and they could see the runway before the plane crashed.
“The aircraft was seen circling around areas in Bukoba, Misenyi and Muleba districts. It was later observed to make a normal approach to runway, but it struck the lake surface before reaching the threshold,” read the report.
- Fatalities and rescue
According to investigators, passengers in the front and middle rows drowned because they did not have enough time to unbuckle their seats before the water gushed in.
“The front section of the fuselage was completely immersed in water after the aircraft came to rest, while the rear section remained partially immersed,” the report said.
The report said a female cabin crew member unlocked one of the exits in the plane’s rear, contrary to the government’s initial version that a fisherman opened the door from the outside.
She was helped by a “muscular passenger” who held the door open and enabled others to escape from the wreckage, the report added.
This information, though, has raised some eyebrows among Tanzanians.
“This report leaves many questions unanswered. Who exactly rescued the victims?” Dennis Bugumba, a Tanzanian public affairs analyst based in London, wrote in a Facebook post.
“If the fisherman did not actually unlock the door, was the initial government version a cooked one? Why would they cook it?”