A security source said President Yoweri Museveni’s chief pilot, Col. Peter Nyakairu, assured the inquisitive Gen. Garang at Entebbe International Airport that the helicopter was in good mechanical condition to overcome any challenges during the flight.
"Garang wanted to put off the flight till next day. He asked the pilot (Nyakairu) whether it was safe to fly after 5.00p.m and make it in good time but Nyakairu said, ’Afande we shall make it, it is very safe’," a source who was present before the helicopter was flagged off told the Daily Monitor in Juba, Southern Sudan at the weekend during the funeral of Garang.
Garang’s widow, Rebecca Nyandeng, told KTN, a Kenyan news network that her husband expressed reservations about flying to New Site, when it was getting dark.
In an interview with KTN from southern Sudan, the widow said Garang and his aides, however, told her that the pilot had assured them that the chopper was capable of making the journey.
She ruled out foul-play, saying her husband, like the biblical Moses, had fulfilled his mission and his time to move on had come.
An aviation source said a confident Nyakairu saluted Garang and ushered him into the helicopter where he sat with State House protocol officer, Samuel Bakowa before they took off for Southern Sudan.
The helicopter crashed near New Site, one and a half hours into the ill-fated journey, killing all the passengers on board including Garang.
An aviation source said that Col. Nyakairu was flying the helicopter to Southern Sudan for the first time, so the bad weather could have posed a serious challenge to him. "It seems the weather was bad and he (Nyakairu) radioed Entebbe International Airport that he was on the way back but we never heard from them".
Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) officials at New Site who were waiting to receive Garang reportedly said they saw the helicopter come to land when it was already dark as seen from the flickering red lights on its belly but later saw it turn back to Uganda side.
Aviation sources said Nyakairu told Entebbe Control Tower his flight plan was Kidepo Valley National Park.
But up to 8 p.m. they had not heard from him.