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Eurocopter Joins Kenyan Probe of Helicopter Crash

Eurocopter, a unit of European Aeronatic, Defence & Space Co., said it is helping Kenyan authorities investigate the cause of a helicopter crash that killed the internal security minister and five others.

The incident involving Eurocopter’s AS350 B3e that occurred in the Ngong Forest outside the capital, Nairobi, yesterday claimed the lives of George Saitoti, who planned to run for the presidency next year, assistant minister Orwa Ojode, two pilots and two bodyguards. The cause of the crash is unknown and it’s being treated as an accident, Prime Minister Raila Odinga said.

“Eurocopter has mobilized a team of experts to assist and support the Kenyan authorities, which will conduct an investigation into the accident,” the company said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

The flight left Wilson Airport in Nairobi at 8:32 a.m. in good weather with some fog and visibility of 8 kilometers (5 miles), Kenyan Transport Minister Amos Kimunya told ministers today in a live broadcast on KTN television station. The pilots lost contact with the control tower at about 8:38 a.m., and four minutes later the aircraft fell to the ground, he said.

The aircraft logged about 230 flight hours since it was built last year and delivered to the Kenyan police in December, Eurocopter said. Its last maintenance check was at the end of May, the company said.

Saitoti, 66, a mathematics professor before he entered politics, helped develop a plan to fight the Somali Islamist militant group, al-Shabaab, which led to the deployment of Kenyan soldiers in the neighboring country last year.

Somali Militants

Al-Shabaab, which is linked to al-Qaeda, is “very happy and satisfied” with the deaths of Saitoti and Ojode, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, a spokesman, said in an audio recording on the pro-al-Shaabab website Amiirnuur.

Saitoti was spearheading efforts to overhaul the police department, which Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International described last year as the Kenyan state institution most prone to bribery.

In 2006, Saitoti was implicated by a commission of inquiry into the so-called Goldenberg scandal, in which the Kenyan government lost almost $1 billion in fraudulent exports of gold and diamond jewelry. The High Court later ruled he shouldn’t be charged in connection with the case.

Saitoti previously served as vice president and the minister of finance, education and national planning minister, and had business interests in real estate, agriculture and tourism.

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