INFERNO | Debris holds key to establishing whether the disaster was an accident or the work of saboteurs as airlines count the cost Fire and emergency teams took too long to respond after travellers raised the alarm “ Contingency measures have been put in place to stabilise the situation.”
Investigators were yesterday examining the possibility of sabotage as they combed through the debris of a fire which destroyed the international arrivals terminal at Kenya’s largest airport.
They were exploring the possibility of arsonists seeking to destroy immigration records or other sensitive security data at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
One theory was that it took too long for anyone to respond to what had initially started as a small ﬁre which witnesses said could have been contained had the response been quicker.
All this came as top security officials, including Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo, National Intelligence Service chief Michael Gichangi, CID boss Ndegwa Muhoro and oﬃcers from the anti-terrorism unit held a series of meetings at JKIA the whole day. President Uhuru Kenyatta earlier led a high-level team of government oﬃcials to JKIA.
The ﬁre caused massive air traﬃc disruptions as the busiest airport in the region was shut down. More than 16,000 travellers were aﬀected.
Planes were diverted to Mombasa and Eldoret in Kenya and Kilimanjaro and Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania.
Last evening, authorities said 120 witnesses from KAA, immigration and others had been interviewed and recorded statements.
Plans were being made for international planes to Kenya to ﬁrst land at Moi International Airport in Mombasa for clearance and then the passengers to ﬂy to Nairobi on domestic ﬂights.
The fire that started at dawn destroyed huge sections
of the international arrivals terminal, including the area connecting to Units One and Two, as well as shops, banks, forex bureaux, travel agencies and airline offices.
Teams of forensic investigators, intelligence officers and explosive experts were at the scene to establish the cause of fire.
Passengers who were caught up in the early morning incident were hurriedly evacuated, and some watched helplessly as their luggage was destroyed in the blaze.
President Kenyatta was showed around the ruins and later issued a statement through his spokesman Manoah Esipisu.
“The cause of fire is being investigated and at this point there’s no reason to speculate. There was no loss of life. There was serious disruption of aviation operations at this airport.
Contingency measures have been put in place to stabilise the situation and return airport to normal operations,” the President said.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku said a team comprising police detectives and intelligence oﬃcers had been formed to carry out the investigations.
Kenya Power technicians were also called in to help in the investigations.
Directorate of Criminal Investigations boss Ndegwa Muhoro said forensic and explosive experts would be part of the investigations.
“We are not leaving anything to chance,” he said.
The fire started at one of the Immigration booths, at around 4.30am, and spread through the baggage area, and the enclosed bridges connecting Units One and Two.
Five flights were diverted to other airports and two others were stopped from flying to JKIA before leaving their destinations.
Nine flights had landed before the airport was closed.
The airport serves six million passengers every year, translating to about 16,000 travellers passing through it daily.
The incident comes days after duty free shops in Units One and Two were demolished and traders evicted after many years of legal tussles between the airport management and Kenya Duty Free Ltd owner, controversial businessman Kamlesh Pattni.
Offices belonging to Kenya Airports Police Unit, National Airport Services, Immigration and Customs department were destroyed.
After 3pm, the cargo terminal, which is almost a kilometre from the main airport building, was opened to serve domestic flights.
By last night, the international flights schedule remained suspended even after Unit 3 was cleared for use.
“The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority has granted clearance for use of Unit Three for departures and arrivals of international flights. We want to guarantee security and safety of all passengers and it’s our most important consideration at this time,“ the President’s spokesman said in the statement.