Monthly Archives: September 2013

6 Chilling Survival Stories in Kenyan Aircraft Crashes

Aircraft accidents are the Grim Reaper’s buffet. But sometimes some people just refuse to die, some of them don’t just stare down death in the face and wag a finger at it, they also swim for miles or feed their infants whisky. Wait, what? Sorry Reaper, not today (hiccup).

—-#7  Mr. Bean Saves the Day

(Added 8 September 2013: Thanks to MMK’s comment down there for adding this entry to the list)

Rowan Atkinson, the ‘hilarious’ ageless Mr. Bean once saved himself and his entire family after the pilot blacked out. At 4, 877 meters on a flight from Mombasa to Nairobi, Mr. Bean flew a plane despite having zero experience flying the twin-propeller engine. 

The Cessna 202 chartered plane had four passengers: Atkinson, his wife Sunetra, and their children Ben and Lilly. The pilot fell unconscious about 45 minutes into the flight, forcing the comedian to take the controls as his wife tried the good old method of slapping the KO’d guy into consciousness. It worked.

Where some of us would just soil out pants and pray someone deletes our internet history while telling the wife that we never liked her morning breath anyway, Atkinson took the damn controls. Like a typical man, yanked that think up and down until the plane balanced from its murderous nosedive.

The pilot is thought to have been suffering from dehydration. Once he revived, Atkinson moved from the controls and let the pilot do the professional piloting.

It is unclear whether he immediately went into character at the time and grinned as he saved the day.

#6 “Let it Burn”

Over to you, Usher.

Over to you, Usher.

Image from


Ever hated a plane so much that you begged the fire crew to let it burn immediately after you saved yourself from its murderous cabin? Of course you haven’t, but someone has.

On 11 April 1962, an EAA operated Canadair C-4 Argonaut plane struck the Embakasi Airport (Now JKIA) runway and almost immediately caught fire. The plane was carrying out stimulated three-engine approaches when the training captain attempted to unfeather the feathered engine and feathered one of the others. The plane stayed airborne for 1.5 miles before hitting the runway and beginning a fire bonanza!

The Canadair Argonauts had been forced on the EAAC by the BOAC, British Airways predecessor, despite the fact that they were ill-suited for East African routes. So the pilots hated them. So much that after saving his own skin and that of his two crew members, he simply asked the fire crew to…Let it Burn!

Now we know where Usher got his inspiration.

#5 Richard Leakey 

Setting standards for badass poses.

Setting standards for badass poses.

But whenever he is not out looking for poachers or cavemen treasures, Richard Leakey was out there surviving plane crashes.  He survived a small propeller-driven plane accident in 1993 that crushed his lower legs, which had to be amputated. Three months later, the man was again walking on prosthetics.

It is well-known (but hush-hush, don’t-tell-anyone-I-said-it kind of news) that the crash was most likely an assassination attempt. Given that no attempts seems to have been after that, it seems the Reaper and the assassins simply recognized his invincibility and left it to good ol’ time to do the work.

 When he was 11, he fell of his horse and fractured his skull.He also survived Moi and Kenyan politics.

Oh, and when the aircrafts weren’t trying to kill him, his kidneys were. He was diagnosed with terminal kidney disease and given a prognosis of less than 10 years. He got a kidney transplant in 1979 from his brother Philip but it was rejected only a month later…he survived the pneumonia and pleurisy from a weakened immune system

Whenever death sees this guy, it just offers him a cigar and kisses his ring.

#3 ‘The Drunk Infant’

On 28th June 1946, a Rapide VP-KCU plane enroute from Nairobi to Mombasa made a crash landing in Garsen near Lamu.

The pilot had been flying on the wrong bearing and went off course, eventually running out of fuel and being forced to crash. The eight passengers promptly abandoned the wreckage and begun a three day survival series that would be so awesome that it would almost be forgotten in Kenyan History.

The passenger manifest shows that the passengers included a pilot, five adults and a baby girl.

The plan was spotted by RAF Baltimore on the 30th but the party was only rescued the following day. In total, the six adults and an infant survived three days in the wilderness with nothing to eat but biscuits, marmalade, chocolate, and whisky. 

Whisky, saving babies since 1946.

Whisky, saving babies since 1946.

…and dew water of course. There is no mention of whether the eight month infant was fed on whisky. But aren’t babies always high on something?

#4 Flight KQ 430

When a Kenya Airways Airbus A310-300 crashed into the cold Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Ivory Coast on 30th January 2000, there was little hope of finding any survivors. There was no distress call from the pilot before the crash, and it took at least two hours for rescue operations to reach the wreckage. But one man didn’t wait to be found, he swam his way to life.

The bird crashed less than two minutes after taking off from the seaside runway. 168 people died in that horrific accident; which was also Kenya Airways first fatal accident since its formation in 1977. Rescue operations involving powerboats and local fishermen saved seven survivors from the water.

The still unnamed Frenchman’s survival instincts kicked in, and his good swimming skills also helped, and he swarm 1.6 kilometers (1 mile), with cuts and bruises, to the shore. How did he find the beach? Simple, he followed arc lamps set up by the rescue operators. 

He was a good swimmer. That’s how he managed to survive.” Also, he flipped the Grim Reaper-this part is not mentioned in the story. 

#2 A Propeller Walks into the Cockpit

Knock Knock Who's there? Just me, Propeller, Prepare to die!

Knock Knock
Who’s there?
Just me, Propeller, Prepare to die!

On 27th April 1964, an EAAC plane landing at Kilwa in modern-day Tanzania left the runway. The soft ground brought the plane to a sudden halt, causing the port propeller to contact the ground. Given the design of the plane, the propeller flew off, hitting the cockpit and killing the pilot.

The man who survived the horrendous accident was First Office Tommy Turk. Turk survived because the pilot did not follow DC 3 flight manual procedure on a planned forced landing at the time. As he notes in his report, the manual stated that the captain should land the aircraft from the right hand seat, the FOs side, with the FO moving to the passenger compartment.

Cases of the propeller ‘walking’ into the cockpit after a crash were not uncommon. And that’s exactly what happened, a propeller strolled into the cockpit and sliced the good Captain in half. Tommy Turk later described the scene : “The Captain. was in a huddle on the floor, at an odd angle, holding his elbow, saying ‘my arm, my arm’. The arm had almost been totally severed, just above the elbow… I leaned over to pull the Captain up towards him so he could better apply pressure to the artery.  Only then did I notice that the Captain’s  body had been sliced in half by the propeller. Within seconds the Captain lost consciousness and died from the massive blood loss.”

Tommy Turk was a Hungarian pilot who lived in Kenya for most of his life. He retrained and retired as a Captain in 1973.  

#1 Captain Solomon Nyanjui

Death 0 Cpt Nyanjui 4

Death 0 Cpt Nyanjui 4

Captain Nyanjui is a man who has come to a consensus with death. You stop messing up my flights and I’ll stop making you look so incompetent. And given that he is still flying choppers today, it seems the deal is working.

Captain Nyanjui has crashed four times, each seemingly crazier than the last. While flying a chopper from Isiolo on November 15, 2007, Nyanjui crashed into the dense forest underneath. Thus begun one of the greatest survival stories that would last eight days.

The crash broke the man’s ribs but not his spirit. He had no food so he survived by eating leaves. To further compound the situation, and to make Lost even look more realistic, he had crashed in a region with torrential rainfall and teeming with wildlife. Wildlife is too general a reference, according to the man, a herd of elephants rocked the aircraft at night. Now, your nightmares of accidentally being rejected by your crash look like child’s play don’t they?

He then found the dislodged battery for his phone and sent an SMS to a friend. A whole new level of wingmanning was thus born, and can only be surpassed if someone in space needs to be rescued from a nagging date. He was, however, found by a group of farmers out digging a water trench.

He is a man who the gods of the air have tried to kill incessantly, and to no avail. Two years before the crash, he had crash landed an aircraft in the Aberdares while carrying the then Nation and Safaricom CEOs-Wilfred Kiboro and Michael Joseph. The crash was caught on camera.

…and of course he went back to flying again a few months later (he said he would)because fuck you, death.

You would think the Grim Ripper would just quit, right? Well, in 2008, Nyanjui had to make yet another crash landing while carrying a dignitary. 


Owaahh © 2013


Posted by on September 7, 2013 in Badassery, Death, Events, Pages from the Past, Short Lists


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