Two Ugandan Russian-made attack helicopters are still missing in Kenya while the crew of another was airlifted to safety from Mt Kenya, according to Kenyan and Ugandan military authorities.
A transport helicopter, which was part of the group flying to Somalia in readiness for the attack on Kismayu, arrived safely in Mogadishu.
Ugandan military spokesmen dismissed speculation about foul play and blamed the string of bizarre accidents on bad weather. (READ: Poor weather hinders search for Uganda's missing helicopters)
However, the loss of three relatively modern aircraft — the helicopters were bought last year — flown by pilots who were reported to be experienced will be one of the more notably puzzling incidents in aviation history.
According to Ugandan authorities, four helicopters, all Russian-type Hind aircraft, left Soroti Flying School in Eastern Uganda on Sunday.
The choppers landed in Eldoret at 11am and took off again for Nanyuki air base. They are said to have left Laikipia at 4pm, enroute to Wajir, a key staging point for the war in Somalia.
Yet to be found
Three of the helicopters never made it.
Ugandan military spokesperson, Col Felix Kulayigye, told reporters in Kampala that one — Mi-17 transport chopper, with its 13-member crew on board — made it to Mogadishu, while two of the three Mi-24 attack helicopters are yet to be found.
One Mi-24 was flown by Lt Col Chris Kasaija crash-landed in Castle Forest, about 14 kilometres from Kimunye Forest Service station on Mt Kenya and all its 7-man crew was rescued on Monday afternoon and safely evacuated by the Kenyan military to Nanyuki base.
Col Kulayigye had earlier told journalists that all four helicopters had been found but after a meeting with Defence minister, Dr Crispus Kiyonga, he clarified that two were still missing.
“We want to thank our Kenyan counterparts for the rescue operations. I can confirm that five people have been rescued. Ten are unaccounted for. But unconfirmed reports is good news that there are no fatalities,” he said.
The two missing helicopters, Col Kulayigye said, could have made “a hard landing” anywhere between Nanyuki and Garrissa in North Eastern Kenya. “They landed on un-gazetted surface,” he said.
This was the second batch of the helicopters to be dispatched to Mogadishu in one week.
Col Kulayigye denied reports that there was foul play or the incident could have been the result of poor training of the crew. “The Kenyan air space is safe,” he said.
The Kenyan Department of Defence, Director of Communications, Mr Bogita Ongeri said on Monday:
“Two of the helicopters have been accounted for. The one which landed at Garissa in north eastern Kenya and the one which crash landed on Mt Kenya”.
Mr Ongeri said that seven crew members had been rescued and efforts to rescue all the others were on going but being hampered by the weather.
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