7 May 2007
The first images of the crash site were beamed to Cameroonians on Equinox TV- a Douala based private television station. Journalist from this station had defied the restriction imposed by the Governor of Littoral Province (where Douala is located). The governor had instructed the police on Sunday evening (after visiting the crash site) not to allow anybody into the area until the following day. Equinox TV “stealthily” gained access to the site through the bush. It was obvious from the TV footage that nobody survived the crash. The aircraft went down with 114 people on board early Saturday morning shortly after take off from Douala en route to Nairobi (Kenya).
Authorities in Cameroon, the Red Cross and others started fishing out the decomposing, mostly body parts of victims of the Kenya Airways flight. The crash site that was surprisingly near Douala airport was only discovered on Sunday evening-almost thirty-six hours after flight KQ 507 got missing. Earlier false leads had sent rescuers and journalists hunting for the missing plane about 150-200 kilometers away in the South province.
Cameroonians therefore received the news that the wreckage was found on the outskirts of Douala with consternation. “No matter how the authorities try to portray this matter, there is no way that they can escape questions relating to competence”. Said a young lady in her early twenties whose sister was on board the fateful flight. A hunter is said to have located the wreckage in a mangrove around the village of Mbanga Pongo about 20-30 kms from the airport at the periphery of Douala city.
I drove from Douala International airport along the Douala-Yaounde highway that runs almost parallel to the flight path of the doomed aircraft. It took me exactly six kilometers to the point where I had to branch off the highway to the crash site. I had to park my car at the entrance (where a police barrier restricted access) and hired a motorbike that took me on a path running perpendicular to the Douala-Yaounde highway to the second police barrier situated at ten minutes ride. I was not allowed to cross the second police barrier even on foot. I had to limit myself to interviewing people coming from the crash site located about one hour walk from that point.
“I will not advise anybody to go to that place. The site is horrifying and the stench from the decomposing bodies is unbearable. I saw very few whole bodies. People are mostly assembling body parts.” A young man in his early thirties told an eager crowd that had gathered to get the latest information from the crash site. “How does the crash site look like”? I asked. “It is swampy and slippery. Muddy water gets up to your knee level in some places. Look at my legs.” He said, pointing to his mud soiled legs. “The aircraft is scattered into several small pieces while one huge part is buried in the mud. I could not see any piece bigger than half that small car. Many of the aircraft parts and human body parts are dug out of the mud. The only corpse I know that was easily identifiable was that of one man that gut stuck on tree branches. His mutilated corpse had identification documents on it”.
The force of the crash was particularly violent. It is believed that a considerable chunk of the aircraft is buried into a 30-35meters deep small ‘crater’ lake formed by the nose-diving impact.
Relatives, co-workers and friends of victims from different nationalities were seen moving around with long faces. They had come to the end of the road with regards to nursing any hope of finding their loved ones alive. They were unfortunately just beginning another hard journey to locate their remains and lay them to rest.
Njei Moses Timah