Monday, August 13, 2012

2 Confirmed Dead in Ugandan Helicopter Crash

In this photo provided by the Kenyan military, Chris Kasiji, a senior Ugandan air force pilot, is rescued from the wreckage of a helicopter on Mount Kenya, August 13, 2012.

A Kenyan official says two Ugandan soldiers are confirmed dead from the crash of a Ugandan military helicopter on Mount Kenya late Sunday. 

 Simon Gitau, deputy warden of Mount Kenya National Park, says searchers found the two bodies outside the wreckage of the aircraft, which he said was still burning Tuesday and might contain other bodies.

He said several soldiers from another Ugandan army helicopter that crashed on the mountain were rescued Tuesday after walking away from their crash site.

On Monday, search teams rescued seven people from a third Ugandan helicopter that made an emergency landing on Mount Kenya.

The 5,200-meter mountain is the second highest in Africa.  Ugandan officials say they suspect bad weather caused the helicopters to go down.

The Russian-made Mi-24 helicopters were on their way to Somalia to join African Union forces fighting the militant group al-Shabab.

A fourth helicopter traveling with the group landed safely in northeastern Kenya.

Uganda provides the bulk of the personnel for the AU force in Somalia.

Call it fate, bad luck or inexperience, but on the day Uganda’s top athlete with a familiar Kenyan name humbled Kenya’s marathoners, its primed military pilots failed to navigate Mount Kenya’s fog.

Subsequently, three of its four choppers heading to Somalia to join the African Union’s strike at the heart of Al-Shabaab, amid fanfare at Soroti, ended up lying in the rugged southern edges of the snow-capped mountain, as rescuers scampered to save their passengers.

What followed was horrifying, not only because of the agony of nursing injuries in the dark and freezing temperatures of Mount Kenya that is mostly inaccessible to rescuers, but also due to the fact that the Kenya Defence Forces appear not to have given their best in rescuing the “friendly force” from across the border.

But even more intriguing was the fact that last evening, the second night fell with two of the choppers untraced along with the14 troopers they were carrying and the heavy weaponry believed to have been on board the sturdy machines, each with a capacity of 4.5 tons.

The crew of one of the MI 24 choppers was rescued after spending over 12 hours in the bowels of Mount Kenya, grappling with pain, cold, and fear of wild animals — an experience that must have been scarier than chasing Al-Shabaab’s militia over the burning sands of Somalia, while gleefully shelling them.

Four of the seven survivors were airlifted to safety to a Nanyuki airstrip at 1pm aboard a private Tropic Air helicopter, thanks to the heroics acts of the civilian owner, Captain Ben Simpson.

Weary and fatigued, the disheveled soldiers, still clutching their AK 47 riffles, disembarked from the chopper and were ushered to the operations office for First Aid. One of them recounted their horror and desperation as they lay trapped in a forest in a foreign land, staring helplessly as their pilot, who was badly injured, groaning in pain.

“The biting cold and the groaning of the pilot kept us awake the whole night. In the morning, we decided to start walking from the wreckage just incase we could find our way out,” he recalled.

It is then that Captain Simpson spotted them after their frantic attempts to attract the attention of a Kenya Air Force helicopter pilot hovering above them. Four Kenya Wildlife Service officers in this particular rescue mission assisted Simpson, as KDF sources claimed they lacked the type of choppers to dispatch to the mission because most of their prime assets are bogged down in Somalia taking the fight to Al-Shabaab.

Simpson returned for the pilot and other two soldiers whom he flew to Laikipia Air Base, apparently under instructions from the Kenyan military. While the seven were lucky to be freed from their misery, their colleagues in two other choppers weren’t as lucky and could be spending another night in the wilderness.

Only the fourth helicopter, number Mi17, is reported to have landed in Garissa from Nanyuki where the four helicopters had refueled. The pilot of the third helicopter had radioed for help from the dense forest.

Kenya’s military spokesman Bogita Ongeri denied KDF were unusually slow to rescue the Ugandans and blamed the terrain in the mountain for the slow pace of the operation.

 Uganda military helicopters have rough landings  
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — One Ugandan military helicopter made an emergency landing and two others came down hard after being dispatched to strengthen peacekeeping troops in Somalia, a Ugandan military spokesman said Monday. 

Col. Felix Kulayigye, the Ugandan army spokesman, told reporters in Kampala there were no fatalities. He did not say where the helicopters landed or how many military personnel they were carrying. He said two made a “hard landing.”

Kenyan Military spokesman Bogita Ongeri earlier said that only one helicopter out of the four that left a base in Entebbe, Uganda on Sunday evening landed in Kenya, in the northern town of Garissa. Ongeri said one of the pilots from the missing helicopters radioed from the Mount Kenya region Monday morning and the Kenyan military launched a search and rescue operation. Poor visibility hampered that effort, he said.

The Ugandan military forms the bulk of the African Union forces in Somalia that are battling the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab, which is waging an insurgency against Somalia’s weak government. Ugandan and Burundian forces pushed al-Shabab out of Mogadishu about a year ago. Helicopters will further aid their counterinsurgency efforts.

Kenya and Burundi have also dispatched to troops to fight al-Shabab, which neighboring countries view as a regional threat. The militants are now concentrated in the southern coast town of Kismayo, which is likely to be the next scene of serious fighting.

Somalia has not had a stable government since 1991, when longtime dictator Siad Barre was ousted by warlords who then turned on each other.

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