The doomed plane was piloted by 62-year-old Danny Philemotte, who also owned the airline, and co-piloted by 39-year-old Chris Wilson from Cheltenham, England.
It was en route from Kinshasa to Bandundu, when it crashed one kilometer short of the runway, killing all three crew members and 17 passengers. There was one survivor who became a crucial witness.
A 2010 plane crash in the Congo that killed 20 people may have been caused by passengers surging towards the flight deck to get away from an escaped crocodile, causing the plane to stall, a UK coroner’s court heard.
An inquest into the crash is taking place in Gloucester, England, near where the co-pilot came from. It found that an escaped crocodile, which managed to gnash its way out of a bag, may have caused a stampede in the cabin, causing the plane to nose dive.
First officer Chris Wilson ditched his job as a cabin crew member with a British airline and moved to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to follow his dream of becoming a pilot.
He joined the Congolese company Filair in order to clock up the 1,000 hours needed to get a commercial pilot’s license.
But Wilson told his brother Martin that the airline was unreliable to the point of being dangerous and his Belgian copilot, Mr Philemotte, was so incompetent that Chris had no idea how he was flying at all. Matters were made worse by the fact the Philemotte also owned the airline.
Chris also said that it was normal for passengers to walk around and stand up when they were meant to be sitting down, making the plane unstable.
It was also the norm for passengers to take animals on board, as if it was a taxi and not an aircraft.
The Czech built Let 410 had been flying from the capital Kinshasa to Bandundu when it crashed into a house less than one kilometer from the runway.
Local media reported at the time of the crash that a small crocodile escaped from a passenger’s duffel bag, the passengers panicked and surged towards the front of the aircraft causing it to become unstable and crash.
20 passengers and crew died in the crash, but one person survived who gave the account of the crocodile. The animal also apparently survived.
However, despite the eyewitness, there is still much uncertainty regarding the true causes of the crash.
Timothy Atkinson, an air crash investigator working on the case, said he couldn’t come to any definitive conclusions because the Congolese authorities hadn’t given him the black box flight recorder.
“The most likely explanation I can find is that the aircraft stalled, or was in a spin prior to impact, which may have been from a variety of causes. Essentially, it fell out of the sky,” he said.
The coroner at the inquest, Mr. Dooley, said he was presented with a number of possible causes, including fuel shortage, overloading, engine failure, pilot error, poor maintenance and sabotage.
“Problems with direct witnesses and problems with the black box have only resulted in vague guesses as to what happened with this crash. All we have are possibilities rather than probabilities,” he said.
Mr Dooley read out an email from Chris’s dad, Rob, to Congolese officials. Rob said that he had spoken to the original investigator who said, “There was a gentlemen who came up with a story about a crocodile. There is apparently a video of the crocodile being taken out of the plane,” he said.
Local media reported at the time that one of the passengers took the crocodile onto the plane in order to sell it.
However, it appears the crocodile did get its comeuppance – after the crash it was apparently killed with a machete.