Kenya Airways 787 Pilot Dies Following United States Rescue Flight

Demonstrating the incredible level of risk airline employees put themselves in these days, the Kenya Airways pilot who flew the final flight from New York to Nairobi has now died of COVID-19. Captain Kimuyu Kabati passed away in Nairobi on April 1st due to exposure to the virus.

Kenya Airways flight
A Kenya Airways pilot has passed away due to coronavirus. Photo: Getty Images

“On behalf of the Board of Directors, the Management and the staff at Kenya Airways, we join the family of the late Captain Kibati in mourning their beloved one and pray that the Almighty God will strengthen them during this time of sorrow,” -Kenya Airways statement via Nairobi News

Flying the last flight from the United States

The announcement was made by the Health Cabinet Secretary, Mutahi Kagwe yesterday. Evelyne Munyoki, the Chief Human Resources Officer said that Captain Kimuyu Kabati, who was a Boeing 787 captain, passed away on April 1st. Kabati was 63 years old.

Kabati flew the last Dreamliner flight from New York on Wednesday, March 25th. Kenya Airways’ New York-Nairobi service is relatively new, having only started in the fall of 2018. The final flight was very much directed towards repatriation efforts as the airline was offering free tickets to Kenyans needing to return home who could not afford the cost of the flight.

Following the flight’s arrival in Nairobi, he then went into quarantine. He tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. According to Nairobi News, Kabati was checked in at Nairobi Hospital on March 29th, complaining of breathing difficulties. He will be buried tomorrow.

The first COVID-19 death in Kenya was reported last week at the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi. At the time of writing, the death toll in Kenya due to the virus is relatively low, with only four recorded fatalities. However, two Kenyans are also reported to have died of the virus in the United States.

The risk airline workers face

While we can’t say for certain that the infection and subsequent death of Captain Kabati is a result of his work as a pilot, there is certainly a high possibility that it is. In fact, The Star reports that two more pilots tested positive and were admitted to the same hospital as Kabati. This case is a reminder of the risk that airline workers around the world face in the course of their duties.

We now know how incredibly contagious and infectious this coronavirus is. Given the confined space that is an unavoidable aspect of air travel, passengers and aircrew alike do assume a certain level of risk when stepping into an airport and aboard an aircraft in this current global situation.

Kenya Airways 787 Pilot Dies Following United States Rescue Flight
The Kenya Airways Dreamliner would normally fly to cities like Paris, London, and Amsterdam. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

The fight for PPE

Therefore, it is no wonder why Air India flight crew operating rescue flights are complaining about the quality of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) provided to them. In a letter to the Minister of Civil Aviation, a group of Air India pilots who have flown rescue missions say the PPE issued was ill-fitting, substandard and easily disintegrated during the flight. Additionally, the letter says that crew were not provided with enough sanitizer and the disinfection process of the aircraft did not meet industry standards.

On the other end of aircrew standards, Taiwan has issued all flight crew for its home airlines full protective gear. Taiwanese carriers EVA Air, China Airlines and others will now work onboard aircraft fully clad with protective masks, goggles, gloves, and gowns. Taiwan has been lauded as the country with one of the best early responses to the outbreak, taking a long list of precautions and safety measures early in the crisis.

Kenya Airways 787 Pilot Dies Following United States Rescue Flight
The new protective gear modeled at a briefing. Photo: CECC of Taiwan

It is important to recognize the current risks involved with air travel and to show appreciation for the flight crew that bravely face this danger to do their jobs.

Do stories like this cause you to reconsider air travel or are you willing to accept the risk? Let us know in the comments.

Simple Flying reached out to Kenya Airways for an official statement. However, no response was received by the time of publication.

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