A burial with no coffin and no body to bury. That was the poignant send-off given to two missing victims of last year’s plane crash in Lake Nakuru.
Mourners were left gazing into the waters that swallowed up the bodies of Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika’s aides Sam Gitau and John Mapozi. They consoled the families in the February 10 ceremony and placed flowers on the eastern side of the lake.
Gitau and Mapozi were among five people aboard helicopter 5Y-NMJ when it crashed on October 21 last year. More than 40 divers were involved in the rescue mission. The bodies of pilot Apolo Malowa, Kihika’s other aide Anthony Kipyegon, and student Veronica Muthoni were retrieved, but Gitau’s and Mapozi’s were never recovered.
The plane crashed a few minutes after take-off from Jarika County Lodge at Freehold estate in Nakuru town. The bodies of Apolo and Kipyegon were recovered 72 hours after the tragedy, while Muthoni’s body was found 28 days after the crash, trapped in the main chopper engine and fuselage.
The body search was led by six geologists from the department of geology, headed by Enoch Kipseba.
Modern machines were also supplied to help locate the debris, among them sonar from Kenya Navy and two magnetometers from the GDC and Mining ministry.
Jonathan Kertich of the National Disaster Operation Centre said divers combed the murky waters for more than 12 hours every day.
However, the search was eventually called off, and the families forced to resign to the fact their relatives were lost to the lake forever.
FAMILIES FAINT, SPEECHLESS
Some family members and friends fainted during the symbolic burial, which was led by Father Fernando Andati of St Joseph Catholic Church, Racetrack. They said it has been agonising period, and that they could not stand the bodiless ending.
“It’s sad that after more than three months, we cannot even view the bodies of our loved ones. It’s hard to come to terms with just placing flowers instead of bodies in coffins,” Mapozi’s friend Francis Kimani said.
It was a tough day, as the parents of the two families could not even read the tributes on their own. They had to be read by their close relatives.
Leaders who attended the ceremony to show solidarity included nominated Jubilee Senator Isaac Mwaura and Nakuru woman representative Liza Chelule.
MPs present included David Gikaria of Nakuru Town East, Samuel Arama of Nakuru Town West, Kuria Kimani of Molo and Samuel Gachobe of Subukia. They paid their last tributes to the victims during their speeches.
Speakers described Gitau and Mapozi as visionary and confident young men who made friends wherever they went.
“Mapozi effortlessly interacted with people and easily rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty during his political career,” Kimani said.
Margret Wairimu, Gitau’s mother, said amid sobs:
“I have never imagined living without you. This is the most tragic and traumatic loss that life has caused me, losing you, my only son. I suffer from grief, guilt and anguish.”
Mapozi’s mother Florence Nyambura said: “Wherever you are, John, we miss you still. We feel your absence and will always miss you.”
Kihika said she has lost a team that helped her rise the political ladder. “I have lost two of my most dedicated and loyal generals in that accident, and I’m yet to come to terms with the loss,” she said.
“I shared a lot with them. I could rely on them at any time, and they made sure my name was known all over the county in the run-up to the elections.”
The two families and friends recounted how they had been enduring months of agony sitting at the shores of the lake, praying and hoping the bodies of their loved ones would be retrieved soon and given a decent send-off.
The families would brave the chilly morning, sitting pensively at the shores of the lake as they waited for goods news from the divers. They spent most of their days gazing at the waters as waves rocked the shores.
“Every day, I spent at least 12 hours staring at the waves. Always praying for God to open doors for the two remaining bodies to be recovered, so that our minds can rest,” Gitau’s father William Ngugi said.
Ngugi could often be seen seated a few metres from the lake, staring at the waters in deep thought.
Nyambura often isolated herself from the crowd, maybe to say a word of prayer and hope for a successful retrieval. She was overwhelmed by the pain of a mother losing a child.
She recalled the cold mornings when Mapozi left their home in Mona village, Molo subcounty, two days before the tragic crash. He had a tight schedule, having been in the presidential campaign team.
“We spend sleepless nights thinking about our loved ones, who perished close to three months ago. It has been like decades to us, watching helplessly,” Nyambura said.
The divers were drawn from the Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Navy, fisheries department, Bomet county and divers sponsored by Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko.
High pollution put made it harder for them to conduct the search, making them comb the waters for longer than expected.
The recovery team had to endure hours in extremely dirty water and silt, which frustrated their efforts to locate and retrieve the bodies. The high levels of raw sewage mixed with water did not make things easier.
One diver said the water is also soapy, making it difficult to see through the water. “When you rub your hands after getting into contact with the water, you could produce foam,” said Moses Owaga, head of the 10 Mombasa-based divers from the Sonko Rescue Team.
At one point, tens of divers were diagnosed with typhoid, but they were treated and resumed in the recovery mission.
Dead fish could be seen on the shores, in evidence of the effects of the pollution on fauna.
The families of the victims want the Kenya National Disaster Operation Centre to release the report of the recovery operation.
“It has been months of agony for the us trying to come to terms with the reality that we will never see the bodies of our loved ones. We will be contented to at least see the findings of the report,” Nyambura said.
Asked about the report, NDOC’s Kertich said: “I’m not sure whether it is complete. I will follow up with my boss to know its status.”
Source: Star/Rita Damary