by Ben Taylor
Fatal air crash raises tough questions
At 8.53am on Sunday November 6, 2022, a Precision Air passenger flight crashed into Lake Victoria while approaching Bukoba Airport in bad weather. The flight from Dar es Salaam to Bukoba had 39 passengers and four crew members on board, of whom 24 survived and 19 died.
Fishermen in canoes were the first to arrive on the scene and were reportedly crucial in rescuing those who survived the crash. One in particular, Jackson Majaliwa, 20, was celebrated for his heroic role in rushing to the scene and opening the rear door by smashing it with a rowing oar, thus helping passengers seated in the rear of the plane to be rescued.
Speaking the following day, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said President Samia Suluhu Hassan was happy to hear of the efforts made by the fisherman to save lives and ordered that he be recruited to the fire and rescue brigade. He said the fisherman will be trained so that he can participate in various rescue operations.
Kagera regional commissioner Albert Chalamila awarded him with TSh 1 million. “I congratulate this young fisherman who bravely used a paddle to open the door of the plane and managed to save the 24 passengers inside the plane,” said Chalamila.
A report issued three weeks later by the Air Accident Investigation Branch criticised emergency services, describing them as unprepared, ill-equipped and slow to respond.
According to the report, the fire station in Bukoba was equipped with one fire engine and manned by ten firemen who were trained only to carry out rescue operations on land. The firemen were not equipped for offshore operations which were required after the plane crashed into the lake.
The police marine unit was notified 15 minutes after the crash, but only arrived at the scene some hours later as its sole rescue boat was elsewhere on patrol when the accident occurred. When it arrived, divers were unable immediately launch a search and rescue operation because they lacked oxygen, and the vessel did not have enough fuel.
The government said it has heard the concerns regarding emergency services and that it would work on them. “The government, under President Samia Suluhu Hassan, is taking these suggestions and we are going to work on them,” the Minister for Defence and National Service, Mr Innocent Bashungwa, said.
He said the government, through the Disaster Management Department and the Ministry of Defence and National Service, as well as other securities agencies, would come up with ways of working with the private sector to improve rescue operations.
“We are going to make sure we have a database of rescue equipment in government as well as those available in the private sector so that when a disaster occurs, we have the ability and readiness to handle it,” said Mr Bashungwa.