On Saturday, May 5, 2007, a Kenya Airways Boeing 737-800 with the registration number 5Y-KYA crashed in stormy conditions after taking off from MD-Duala International Airport (DLA) in Cameroon. Kenya Airways flight number KQ 507 was a regularly scheduled flight between Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport (ABJ) and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) with a stop at MD-Douala International Airport (DLA) in Cameroon.
The route of flight KQ 507. Image: GC Maps
After an uneventful flight between the Ivory Coast and Cameroon, Kenya Airways flight KQ 507 was one of three aircraft scheduled to depart Douala around midnight. Royal Air Maroc and Cameroon Airlines operated the other two flights. Intense thunderstorms and heavy rain in the area had delayed all three fights from leaving. While both pilots of the Moroccan and Cameroonian planes decided to wait a little longer, 52-year-old Captain Francis Mbatia Wamwea concluded that the weather had improved enough to leave.
The plane took off into the night without permission
Despite not receiving permission to take off from the tower, Captain Wamwea departed Douala at 00:06 local time. Climbing into the night with no visual references at around 1,000 feet, the captain released the flight controls calling out “Ok,” indicating to the first officer to engage the autopilot. This command was not read back by the co-pilot, suggesting that he had not acknowledged the command.
Now flying without anyone in control, the plane gradually began banking to the right. When the angle reached 34 degrees, the bank angle warning came on, alerting the captain to grab the controls to try and correct the banking. Now at an angle of 50 degrees, it continued increasing with input from the right rudder, taking the angle beyond 90 degrees and sending the plane into a diving spiral. The plane crashed in a mango swamp 12 miles southeast of Douala and was found submerged under mud and water. None of the 108 passengers and six crew members survived.
The investigation into the crash
The Cameroonian government established a commission to investigate the crash with the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Early suspicions focused on the possibility of a dual engine flameout because of the meteorological conditions and the nose-down position of the wreckage. The theory was that this would be consistent with the plane losing power to both engines and stalling while trying to glide back to the airport.
When a final report on the crash was released in 2010, the investigation found that the following things had occurred:
- The aircraft departed without receiving clearance from air traffic control.
- The captain, the flying pilot, corrected a right bank several times after takeoff.
- After 42 seconds of flight, the captain indicated that he had activated the autopilot.
- The autopilot did not engage, nor was the message acknowledged by the co-pilot.
- The pilots did not notice that the aircraft was increasingly banking to the right.
- When a bank angle warning sounded 40 seconds later, the captain then activated the autopilot, but his inputs on the controls led to a further increase in the bank angle.
- The aircraft pitched nose down after reaching 2,900 feet with a 115° right bank.
- The two pilots used opposite and conflicting control inputs to attempt to recover the aircraft.
The final conclusion
After taking everything into account, investigators determined that the crash was due to pilot error brought about by spatial disorientation (a person’s inability to decide on his actual body position, motion, and altitude relative to the earth or his surroundings). With no visual references available and no scanning of the instruments, they decided that Captain Wamwea was confused and disoriented.
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Journalist – Mark is an experienced travel journalist having published work in the industry for more than seven years. His enthusiasm for aviation news and wealth of experience lends itself to some excellent insight, with his work cited in Forbes amongst other publications. Based in Alicante, Spain.
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