By Ian Katusiime
On Sept 11, an Emirates flight EK323 on which Gen. Aronda Nyakairima was a passenger departed Incheon International Airport at 11: 55 pm (5.30am Ugandan time) in Seoul, South Korea, headed to Dubai International Airport. This nine and a half hour flight was to be the last flight of Aronda alive. The flight should have arrived in Dubai at around 9.30pm.
However, a source who works with Emirates told The Independent that mid-flight, the crew tried to wake Aronda for breakfast but he was unresponsive. Moments later he was pronounced dead aboard this flight.
The source also told The Independent that the body was collected by Dubai Airport police medical ambulance and taken to Dubai Hospital for treatment and embalming. It is here that the first autopsy on the body of Aronda was conducted although the findings of this autopsy report could not be established.
The source also revealed that Dubai detectives interrogated the four Ugandan officials that had accompanied Aronda although this information could not be independently verified.
Gen. Aronda had travelled to South Korea on official duty as Minister for Internal Affairs. He was with four other officials; Prof. Peter Kasenene, Chairman of the National Identification Registration Authority (NIRA), Judy Gama Obitre, a Director of NIRA, Cletus Turiho, Director of Technology NIRA and Arthur Musinguzi, an aide de camp to Aronda. NIRA is the body mandated with the implementation of the National ID project which Aronda was spearheading.
The delegation had travelled to South Korea to benchmark the national ID project with the latest technology in bio-data registration in South Korea.
The Flight purser(Head of crew) on flight EK323 made a report on the incident as well as the Flight Captain according to the source. Due to the high ranking positions in which Aronda served, the Ugandan government sent a team of pathologists to Dubai to conduct a post mortem on the body of Aronda although they were haltedby Dubai authorities because they were not registered practitioners in Dubai.
The nature of Aronda’s death also brings into the spotlight of how to deal with incidents of death aboard flights. Attempts by The Independent to get a response from the Uganda office of Emirates were fruitless. “We are not allowed to speak about anything,” said an employee at the Kampala office. Similar attempts to reach out to the Communications office at the headquarters in Dubai were futile. Our emails were not answered by press time. But a source who preferred anonymity because he is not authorised to speak on the subject said that calls by Ugandans for the airline to issue media statements about Aronda’s death will inevitably fall on deaf ears.
“Aronda’s death is not a big issue to the airline. To them his death is like for other passengers who have died on their planes or in Dubai Airport,”he said.
He says the airline could only transport the body of Aronda to hospital for post mortem.
“Actually his death was not even heard of in the airport. Only Ugandans got concerned but work continued normal and interrupted”.
Perhaps, this could be true about Emirates, the largest airline in the Middle East which operates over 3300 weekly flights from its hub, Dubai International Airport.
Ignie Igunduura, the Public Affairs Manager of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) told The Independent about the approach to medical emergencies on flights.
“In case of any emergency such as a heart attack or any medical condition arising on board, the airline communicates with the airport where the plane is due to land and from there it is upon the airport office on the ground to organise a medical team to take over the situation,” he said.
Igunduura says it is standard practice in the industry that an airline makes a report about any incident.
Igunduura adds that airline stewards undergo basic first aid training. “They handle a few issues of first aid nature”.
As the nation comes to terms with the passing of one of its most elite army officers, the government is still grappling with the wave of social media conspiracies and some of the contradiction that has been channelled along the general’s death.
According to a government statement read by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda in Parliament on Sept 17, Aronda died of acute heart failure. According to the post mortem report, Aronda’s heart vessels had an abnormal fat layer which compressed blood vessels leading to heart failure.
A few hours after Aronda’s death, however, the government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo hurriedly issued a `verbal autopsy’ that Aronda had died of a heart attack. His claim has been picked on by the public because going by the government’s own account, no autopsy had been conducted at the time. Many wondered where Opondo had got the information from even before the Dubai authorities concluded their own post mortem.
During the state funeral at Kololo Independence Grounds, Aronda’s widow, Linda Nyakairima said her husband never had a history of ill health in the last twenty years. However in his speech, President Museveni said that Aronda had had prior small heart attacks.
In the same speech, the President also revealed to the public that a South Korean hospital had refused to attend to Aronda due to lack of medical insurance. However during Aronda’s burial in Nyakiju village, Rukungiri district, Kasenene told thousands of mourners, after being invited by Museveni that a protocol officer in South Korea told Aronda he would not be admitted in any hospital if he did not have the insurance.
When The Independent spoke to Kasenene, he declined to comment on the subject saying the Foreign Affairs Ministry was in charge of the issue.