Captain Patrick Waweru: Pilot Who Evacuated 180 People During Ivorian Coup And His Ugly Fallout With KQ

For many people, the name Captain Patrick Waweru may not ring a bell. However, through an exclusive interview with this writer, it is difficult to ignore his charming personality and immense experience in the aviation industry.

Simply put, he is a quintessential man who has been in his element in a career spanning over 27 years.

He has had both sweet and bitter moments. Waweru recalls how he once evacuated passengers from Ivory Coast during a coup and how he was falsely pronounced insane in a bid to throw him under the bus by Kenya Airways authorities.

Because the world as we know is shaped by history and history is told through stories, WoK chronicles the inspiring narrative of Captain Patrick Waweru.

Family and Background 

Waweru is a proud father of five who describes his wife and children as his heroes. According to him, they supported and believed in him when he soaked in a career storm as you will learn later in this article.

His wife, whom he describes as a hard working woman is a secondary school teacher who manages their private school in Githunguri.

Waweru details that he grew up in the silent village of Kiababu located in Ikinu location of Githunguri in Kiambu County.

Captain Waweru and his family

His father worked for the Kenyan army in Nanyuki and so he was also partly raised in this town.

Waweru attended Ikinu Primary School in the ’70s then joined Queen of Apostles Seminary in Ruaraka from form 1 to 4. He went to Dagoretti High School between 1984 and 1985 for his ‘A’ levels.

Even though he initially wanted to become a priest, he shelved this ambition and developed the passion for the aviation industry.

I was a very strong believer and follower of the Catholic church, but along the way unfortunately I got disillusioned about religion,” he says.

Getting A US Visa  

Initially, he was to join Moi University and the plans changed when he secured a visa through the help of former Githunguri MP Arthur Magugu. The parliamentarian, (now deceased) called the US embassy and had Waweru acquire his visa.

Because the MP laid a ladder for him, Waweru doesn’t shy from expressing his gratitude for the kind act that changed his life.

The renowned captain was a man of sheer hard work and obstinate determination and at one time hired musicians to perform in various events in a bid to raise money for his air ticket. He also conducted a fundraiser which enabled him to pay for the air ticket before he traveled to the US in 1989.

Pilot Career and Becoming Flight Operations Inspector

By the sweat on his brow, he landed a job at a factory where he worked at night and attended classes during daytime. The pay was significant to meet his expenses and pay his school fees.

He also directed his energies at class where he studied at Boliver School of Aeronautics in Tennessee. Waweru completed his studies in 1992 and jetted back to Kenya in order to sit a few examinations that would enable him to acquire a local license.

Before he landed a pilot’s job, he briefly taught at Kenya School of Flying. In 1994, the father of 5 kick-started his sky career when he was employed to transport miraa from Nairobi to Somalia.

It was in 1995 when Kenya Airways advertised for piloting positions and he emerged successful despite a cutthroat recruitment process that saw over 50 applicants salivate for the lucrative job. He was promoted to the captain position in 2002.

He is also an ICAO certified Flight Operations Inspector who served as a Flight Inspector with the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA). As a government safety inspector, he paid attention to the finest of details and was strict not to bend the stipulated safety requirements.

Imagine, how do you live in a situation where you have left something go and an aircraft crashes? How does that make you feel?” He poses.

It is a Fascinating Profession 

Asked what excites him a lot about his career, Captain Waweru details it is the sophisticated technology behind aircrafts.

First and foremost, it is the thrill of flying and the intelligence and capability of the human mind, because up to today it still amazes me how such a huge equipment can soar above the ground and the only thing you’re doing is manipulating a few buttons on the cockpit,” he says.

He also says that he has been to virtually every corner of the world and cannot point exactly the number of countries he has been to.

I know almost the whole of Europe, Africa and  Asia. So to speak, I’ve traveled almost the entire world,” he said.

Captain Waweru advice to any person intending to follow his career footprints is that it is crucial to have a plan, focus and believe in oneself.

Though he has mentored many upcoming pilots, he points out that the biggest challenges derailing the career are lack of information and financial constraints for students who want to pursue this noble profession.

His efforts to have leaders establish a fund for training more pilots have been futile as he has never received any feedback from the letters written.

Nonetheless, Waweru’s desire has seen him partner with a friend who has an aircraft simulator in training young people. He is quick to point out that the demand for this training is highly under-served.

Insanity Fix That Left Him In The Doldrums

Captain Waweru recalls his lowest point of the career when he was fixed by a renowned Kenya Airways official who falsely claimed he was insane. Trouble began when Waweru sought to establish transparency in the intake process after he realized some malpractices. After collecting enough information, he sought to have the matter addressed discreetly.

I happened to discover some malpractice within the intake program in 2009. Some people within KQ were misusing that opportunity,” he revealed to this source.

However, it backfired on him as a powerful individual at the airline conspired to have him lose his job at KQ. The said official pronounced him insane then went on to have his medical certificate revoked.

To clear himself, Waweru had to face a panel of psychiatrists drawn from The Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board, then chaired by Professor George Magoha alongside other medics from Aga Khan Hospital,and Nairobi Hospital.

He underwent five mental status examinations which found him to be of sound mind. Unfortunately, the wheels of justice move at a snail’s speed and he is yet to find justice despite a protracted five year court battle.

The allegations made him to be treated as an outcast at KQ and this forced him to resign in 2016.

However, he picked himself up and went on to work with other aviation companies dealing with cargo deliveries. Waweru was instrumental in supply of medical equipment and food items when COVID-19 struck the globe.

Heroic Ivory Coast Evacuation 

Capt.P.W.Mwangi. Receiving an SS (Silver Star of Kenya)from the late former President of Kenya HE Mwai Kibaki after a rescue mission in Abidjan Ivory Coast during insurrection and a coup in 2004. Photo/Courtesy

The most amazing part of his career was on 6th November, 2004 when he saved lives and helped rescue stranded passengers at Houmphuet Bogny Airport in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

In a terrifying coup that saw heavily armed militia attempt to dethrone the government, Waweru and his crew had to hurriedly scamper for safety. However, they waited for 26 hours before they could leave and this was only after Waweru sought the intervention of the military.

Though the airspace was crowded with military aircraft, he managed to evacuate approximately 180 people vis-a-vis the aircraft’s capacity of around 116 people. The heroic captain landed in Accra the following day.

Anybody who brings war to a community or country is an enemy of the people. That should never happen anywhere in the world,” he says.

His act saw President Mwai Kibaki award him with a silver star which is the highest award for bravery in both military and civilian service. Kenya Airways also rewarded him with a one week holiday, together with his family in Seychelles.

“It made me feel appreciated, and I realized that whatever I did was not in vain,” he says.

Giving Back to The Community 

In order to bolster the people’s security, Captain Patrick Waweru helped in setting up a police post in Githunguri in 2002. In collaboration with partners, he is also working on setting up an eco-library dubbed ‘soma na ulinde mazingira‘. He remains upbeat that the initiative will not only impart a reading culture but also help in environmental conservation.