Articles and Analysies
Airplanes Nightmare for South Sudanese By Steve Paterno
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May 7, 2008 - 3:14:11 AM

Airplanes Nightmare for South Sudanese


By Steve Paterno


Plane crashes have killed South Sudan leaders in recent years more than anything else. Of course, South Sudan also lost leaders in other related incidences such as war, sickness, and assassinations. However, to lose an average of one leader a year in a three years span in a plane crash, it begs more questions. Then, with such trend, what is next?

In summer of 2005, traveling on Ugandan’s presidential chopper, John Garang, the first ever legitimate Sudan ’s Vice President who is a Southerner and the president of South Sudan died in plane crash and all those on board the chopper died along with him. That was to follow with near fatal plane crashes, involving high ranking South Sudan leaders. Rumors of Salva Kirr, the successor of John Garang as South Sudan president having died in plane crashes become the order of the day. For the last three years, one actually loses counts on how many times Salva Kiir is rumored to have died in plane crashes. And then, the fate of the South Sudanese leaders seems to have been sealed in the recent plane crash that killed Dominic Dim, the South Sudan Minister of Defense, Justin Yac, the advisor to the President of South Sudan, and all those on board the plane, which include family members as they were nearly landing at Rumbek’s airstrip.

They say, it is actually safer to fly on the plane than traveling on a car. The risk of fatality while flying is very minimal, something like one in millions. However, such statistic does not seem to hold any truth for those who are risking flying in remote places such as South Sudan . In South Sudan , the risk seems to be very high. The fact that an average leader dies in a plane crash a year, is pretty significantly the highest.

There are many factors contributing into such highest risk of flying in South Sudan . The fact that South Sudan comes from a poorest continent of the world, Africa and South Sudan itself is very poor is one of the contributing factors. According to the recent reports on air travel safety, regionally, Africa fared among the worst, “with accident rates as high as six times the global average.” The major reasons on why Africa airlines are the worst as far as air travel is concern is “due to lack of quality personnel or the appropriate work isn’t being done, or there’s just wholesale disregard for safety,” according to William Voss, president of the U.S.—based Flight Safety Foundation.

Such problems are even worsened when it comes to South Sudan . First, South Sudan does not have a credible airline and therefore, no aviation laws, and if there are aviation laws, they cannot be rigorously enforced. The South also does not have its own aircraft fleet. The only aircraft South Sudan has are scraped of old planes it received as donations from sympathetic countries. No wonder all the South Sudan leaders died on board the planes that belong to foreign countries. In the case of John Garang, it was a Ugandan chopper and in the current case of Dominic Dim and Justin Yac, it is a Kenyan chatter plane. As the South does not have aircrafts, it also does not have proper facilities to render safety for operations of airplanes. The airports or airstrips as they called them, are rugged with few or no technological equipment that would ensure safely of flying. And yes, South Sudan lacks quality personnel in aviation industry.

These, however, do not suggest that there are no measures that can be taken which will reduce risk of flying in South Sudan . For one, South Sudan has the money, and as we know, money cannot do all, but many things to improve the situation. For example, the airstrips can be upgraded, personnel can be properly trained, and money can also be allocated in maintenance of the aircrafts including acquisition of new ones. The other measures that also can be taken into consideration will be simple common sense such as avoiding unnecessary travels, following common sense safety approach etc.

Otherwise, South Sudanese have already declared airplanes as their enemy number two. Whatever the case, airplanes will be the enemy that the people should not wage war on, but rather understand and improve so that both the airplanes and the people are safer. In all, bon voyage for those who tragically lost lives aboard airplanes and those who will continue to board airplanes!


Steve Paterno is the author of The Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure, A Romain Catholic Priest Turned Rebel. He can be reached at [email protected] , [email protected]

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