A senior Kenya Airways pilot has paid the ultimate price for his heroic efforts to evacuate Kenyans stranded in the Covid-19-hit New York City.
Captain Daudi Kimuyu Kibati, who was taken ill on March 29, died on April 1, a week after performing his last international assignment.
His death was announced by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe during his daily press briefing on Thursday, as one of the two patients to die of the virus in Kenya this week.
Captain Kibati was in charge of the last flight from New York to Nairobi which evacuated Kenyans stranded in the United States, before the government’s ban on international flights took effect last Wednesday.
Before the government suspended all international flights on March 25, Kenya Airways offered a one way complimentary ticket to Kenyans stranded in New York City who wished to return home.
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New York City was being put on lockdown on March 23, the same day the last KQ flight was departing from the John F Kennedy Airport.
By then, the death toll in New York had surpassed the 1,200 and more than 90,000 Covid-19 cases had been confirmed across the US.
According to sources at Kenya Airways who requested anonymity, Captain Kibati, who piloted the Dreamliner 787, was tasked with evacuating Kenyans from a city ravaged by the virus under very strict timelines.
The flight had to leave New York City before the lockdown was announced New York Governor Andrew Cuomo began and it had to arrive in Nairobi before March 25.
Upon touchdown at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on March 24, the 61-year-old pilot proceeded for self-quarantine, at the Ole Sereni Hotel, alongside his first officer.
Passengers were supposed to be taken to government designated quarantine facilities at their cost. Some of the flight cabin crew were booked at the Four Points Hotel within JKIA.
Captain Kibati, a retired Major of the Kenya Air Force put his life on the line to rescue his countrymen trapped abroad.
The previous week, the pilot who was born in Maliku area of Kitui County had flown another flight from Nairobi to Rome, and back to Nairobi, before being dispatched to New York.
Italy has recorded the highest coronavirus cases in Europe, with the World Health Organisation reporting 13, 157 deaths and 110,574 confirmed Covid-19 cases, as of on Friday.
The pilot tested negative upon arrival in Nairobi and two more times but stayed isolated from his family and friends until March 29 when he developed sore throat and fever.
According to his brother Arnold Kibati, he was taken to Nairobi Hospital where he was immediately admitted after testing positive for the virus.
“He tested positive for coronavirus on the eighth day after undergoing rigorous medical screening in all the cities he flew to, and three more tests in Nairobi which were negative,” Mr Arnold told Nation on Friday.
He said the captain stayed in hospital for two days before succumbing on Wednesday.
A statement released by Evelyne Munyoki, the Chief Human Resources Officer, Kenya Airways said: “On behalf of the Board of Directors, the Management and Staff of 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.”
The Nation established that the First Officer of the KQ flight from New York City to Nairobi and part of the crew who were all under quarantine, also tested positive to the virus and are undergoing treatment. Captain Kibati will be buried at his Maliku home tomorrow in a ceremony to be attended by close family members and friends.