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Kenyan crash victim remembered as talk, dark and handsome with a warm smile

CRANBROOK, B.C. - There was a sad fusion of African hymns and hip-hop salutes as family and friends bid farewell Thursday to the son of a Kenyan cabinet minister killed last week in a bizarre helicopter crash in southeastern British Columbia.


CRANBROOK, B.C. - There was a sad fusion of African hymns and hip-hop salutes as family and friends bid farewell Thursday to the son of a Kenyan cabinet minister killed last week in a bizarre helicopter crash in southeastern British Columbia.

Hundreds of mourners packed the gymnasium at the College of the Rockies to say goodbye to Isaiah Otieno, 20, who died instantly when a faltering aircraft nose-dived into the quiet residential street where he was walking. Three men in the helicopter were also killed.

His sister, Lillian, said Otieno was nicknamed Simba by his grandmother, which means "fearlessness and bravery." And she said the name was bang-on for her 6' 9" brother.

"You could not miss him in the crowd - tall, dark, handsome, charming, he had a great warm smile and he also had a swagger to his walk," she said.

"He was a giant with a very tender heart. Of course, I'm biased, he's my brother."

A Kenyan flag at half-mast flapped in the cool breeze outside the college in Cranbrook, B.C., where Otieno had been studying business for the past two years.

The gymnasium was filled with young college students, among them Otieno's close friends wearing black bandannas on their heads. A Canadian flag lay on a table near the door, and mourners were encouraged to write down their thoughts before it was handed to the family.

'You were a bright student with a great smile," wrote one.

"Miss you bro," wrote another.

A photo of Otieno wearing a black baseball cap and silver chain adorned the front of the gym. His family and a delegation of Kenyan officials who accompanied them sat at the front of the gym, including the Kenyan high commissioner to Canada.

The young man's father, Kenyan public service minister Dalmas Otieno, arrived in town on Wednesday with his wife, his daughter and the government officials to attend the memorial.

The Otieno's plan to take their son's badly burned body back home to Africa for burial.

Speaking publicly Wednesday before touring the crash site and laying wreaths at the spot where his son died, Dalmas Otieno said he wants to see an investigation concluded within a few months and compensation awarded so that the families of the victims can move on.

He said that no amount of money could replace "the devastating loss" of his son but he also said that he would "seek the intervention of the prime minister" if a resolution was dragging on.

At the memorial, Lillian Otieno told her brother's friends that he shared a love of debating and an interest in politics with his father.

"Isaiah volunteered on various development-conscious projects within the college that were geared toward assisting or improving African countries, especially Kenya, his home country," she said.

"At home, he often spoke for the voiceless and was very interested in the well-being of others, especially the less fortunate than he was. His attention to small acts of kindness defined a good life. He felt good about himself so he wanted everyone to feel good about themselves."

She said he was an extrovert, who brought people together and made lots of friends.

Some of those friends remembered him Thursday as an easy-going giant whose promising life was cut painfully short.

"He was loved my many and missed by all," said his friend, Anson Holmes.

"I can only imagine what he would have accomplished in his life. All I know is it would've been nothing short of amazing.

"He could never be replaced, nor would we try. We loved you like a brother and will remember you forever."

College president Nick Rubidge said the school joined the Otieno family in their grief and his confidence, energy and leadership has been missed.

But most of all, Rubidge said the school missed Otieno's potential and what may have been.

Otieno was believed to be wearing headphones as he walked along the street. Witnesses said he appeared not to notice the helicopter overhead until the last second.

Helicopter pilot Edward Heeb, 57, and BC Hydro employees Dirk Rozenboom, 45, and Robert Lehmann, 37, were also killed in the crash.

The Kenyan delegation met with the families of the two BC Hydro employees "and experienced the immense sense of loss in their homes."

Canada's Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, but says it's much too early to know what brought the helicopter down.

 
 
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