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The Kenya Airways Accident Explained: KQ Flight 507 (5 May 2007)

KQ Flight 507 was a passenger flight originating from Abdjan in Ivory Coast and scheduled to Nairobi but through Douala in Cameroon. Flight 507 was operated by Kenya Airways(KQ); the national carrier for Kenya. The first leg of the flight from Ivory Coast to Cameroon went smoothly, the plane landed dropped some passengers, refueled, and picked up more.

KQ Flight 507

The scheduled departure time from Abidjan, Ivory Coast was 18:30hrs and arrival in Nairobi at 03:00hrs

This was and has been the second Kenya Airways crash in history. The first KQ crash was in 2000, and surprisingly originated from Ivory Coast. The Initial crash at least had 10 survivors, as it crashed just minutes after takeoff just like this flight 507

The Flight 507 Aircraft

KQ 5Y-KYA The Very Airplane that crashed

Boeing 737–800 registration 5Y-KYA was newly delivered to KQ on October 27, the aircraft was six months old at the time of the accident, having been delivered to Kenya Airways in October 2006. The plane was launched by Boeing in 1994 with a capacity of 189 passengers

737-800 is a narrow-bodied, twin-engine aircraft for medium-haul distances. Currently, KQ has 8 of these aircraft in its fleet. They have 16 business class seats and 129 in economy. The maximum range is just over 5,500Km.

The 737-800 is one of the most popular flown airplanes across the world even to date, and they have an excellent safety record, better than the 737-MAX which was grounded following two crashes one of Lion Air Flight 610 in 2018, and one Ethiopian Flight 302 in 2019.

There was no technical malfunction recorded in the history of this plane. So yes, there was nothing wrong with this specific aircraft, yet it crashed.

The weather was harsh, but it was not the weather either that caused it to fall off the sky.

Passengers & Crew

The Captain was a 52-year-old Kenyan Citizen, Francis Wamwea who has flown over 16 years and racked over 8,600 flight hours. The majority of the hours were on this very aircraft he was in command of. The captain was with Kenya Airways for over 20 years.

The first officer was a 23-year-old Kenyan citizen also, a new hire with around 831 total flight hours, less experienced compared to the captain as he had just started flying the previous year.

All 114 folks on board, representing 26 different countries, sadly lost their lives. Among them were 108 passengers and six crew members. Cameroon suffered the most with 37 casualties, followed by India with 15, and Kenya with 9 (comprising 3 passengers and 6 crew members).

South Africa had 7 victims, Ivory Coast 6, Nigeria 6, China 5, and the UK 5. Other nations affected included Comoros, Ghana, Tanzania, Senegal, the DRC, Guinea, and more.

Flight Preparation & Takeoff

The craft took off from Abbijan as scheduled and landed in Douala Cameroon on time. After flying without incident from Abidjan to Douala, the largest city of Cameroon, flight 507 taxied to the parking area, and 38 passengers disembarked. Nearby, thunderstorms rolled over the airport, a common occurrence at night in Central Africa.

The weather was not pleasant but wouldn’t be a problem as long as they had enough fuel. As it was forecasted to be moderate thunderstorms, since the weather would be bad the Captain was the one to take charge of flying as he is more experienced

Fueling was completed 91 passengers boarded; on board were 108 passengers and 6 crew, making a total of 114 people on board.

But by the scheduled departure time of 23:00, the plane was not ready, and the delays would only continue to mount. At 23:37, already well behind schedule, the Captain canceled his clearance to start the engines because the weather conditions were unsuitable for takeoff. The passengers and crew would spend another twenty minutes sitting on the apron at Douala International Airport waiting for the wind to die and the visibility to improve.

The first officer asked for clearance to taxi to the runway at 23:57, and the tower told Flight 507 to hold position and wait, soon KQ 507 was cleared to taxi, and the tower instructed to be radioed back before takeoff.

Two other flights; Cameroon Airlines and Royal Maroc were also delayed pilots decided to wait for good weather and visibility. Kenya Airways decided to take off anyway after scanning the weather using the plane’s radar.

The aircraft took off without takeoff clearance as they did not call back the tower. Aircraft took off at 00:06hrs

The Crash

KQ Flight 507 Crash

Once airborne, the aircraft slightly banked to the right by itself, this is a natural tendency for planes to bank to one side to help with correct heading and follow the flight path. Plus aircraft are not perfectly symmetrical, one side tends to be heavier, explaining the slight takeoff banking.

Seconds later the Captain announced, “Okay, command.” (To engage autopilot). This was selected in the wrong mode thus autopilot didn’t engage. Flight 507 was flying in FD mode instead of CMD.

The pilot released controls, and the plane was just cruising by itself, with no pilot inputs nor autopilot, so the plane started slowly banking to the right, and since autopilot was not engaged, there was nothing to correct that.

Captain was changing the headings but the craft wasn’t responding, this should have made him realize something was wrong

Bank increased, and a BANK AGLE! The warning went off, and the captain took over the controls immediately and abruptly turned the controls, which in turn banked the plane further from 30 degrees to around 50 degrees.

An illustration of right banking of KQ Flight 507

The autopilot was finally engaged by the captain after realization, the autopilot continued to fly at the already steep banking angle, but since it is limited to certain steep angles, it would slowly but surely correct the angle. Instead, the Captain started grabbing and turning controls from right to left after the autopilot didn’t instantly correct the situation.

Swinging of the captain’s turning and inputs overpowered the autopilot and the plane bank increased to 90 degrees, the sudden turns caused the already steep banking plane to yaw, bank, and nose pointed down crashing into the mangrove forest; Less than 2 minutes after takeoff. With a speed of 530 km/hr and almost 50 degrees nose pointed down.

KQ Flight 507 Impact Crash

The Aftermath

KQ Flight 507 Crash Site

The crash in a thick swamp shortly after midnight went largely unnoticed, and even then, there was uncertainty about where to locate it. No alarm was raised until the plane failed to reach Nairobi five hours later, and the aircraft’s location remained unknown with no confirmation of a crash.

It took authorities almost two days to realize that the plane had barely left the city. The crash site was discovered on May 6th, approximately 5.4 kilometers away.

On the night of Monday, May 7th, there was a significant development. The wreckage of KQ 507 was spotted at the Mbanga Pongo mangrove swamp.

KQ Flight 507 Crash Scene

Navigating through the dense forest, they clung to each other’s backs. Eventually, they encountered a strong smell of jet fuel and decomposing bodies, confirming they had reached the crash site. There was a pool of water with floating jet fuel and scattered human body parts.

KQ Flight 507 Wreckage

Local villagers had been aware of the crash for some time, as they heard a loud bang and saw flames but due to communication gaps, this information didn’t emerge until the search was well underway.

They found the Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder in the crash site. The Flight Data Recorder was easy to find, but the Cockpit Voice Recorder took more effort.

KQ Flight 507 funeral service

Investigation Findings

The report, released on April 28, 2010, highlighted that the crash occurred because the crew became confused, lacked sufficient control, and didn’t monitor the situation properly.

KQ Flight 507 Blackbox
REENACTMENT – The Lead Investigator (played by Michael Brown), accompanied by Investigator Dennis Jones (played by Neil Whitely), is handed the flight recorder from the downed Kenya Airways Flight 507 aircraft for analysis. (Cineflix/Darren Goldstein)

During the incident, the aircrews from Cameroonian and Moroccan companies chose to wait for better weather conditions. However, the Kenya Airways crew, facing a delay of over an hour and considering improved weather, decided to depart.

Despite this decision, the pilot in command didn’t obtain takeoff clearance from the Airport Control Tower, and the aircraft took off from Douala at 00:06 local time on May 5th.

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