Nairobi: The rescue team, led by the Kenya Wildlife Authorities, has this morning confirmed that the two Ugandan Russian-made attack helicopters which went missing on Sunday crashed in Mt. Kenya.
The rescuers have also indicated that one of the two Mi-24 attack helicopters went up in flames before crashing beyond repair. It is feared all the crew members – understood to number about 10 - could be dead.
Only one Mi-24, flown by Lt Col Chris Kasaija, crash-landed in Castle Forest about 14 kilometres from Kimunye Forest Service station on Mt. Kenya. All its 7-man crew was rescued yesterday afternoon and safely evacuated by the Kenyan military to Nanyuki base.
Ugandan military spokesperson Col. Felix Kulayigye told reporters in Kampala on Monday that one Mi-17 transport chopper, with its 13-member crew on board, part of the group flying to Somalia on Sunday in readiness for the attack on the al-Shabaab held port city of Kismayu, arrived safely in Mogadishu.
According to Ugandan authorities, four helicopters, all Russian-type Hind aircraft, left Soroti Flying School in Eastern Uganda on Sunday. They choppers landed in Eldoret at 11am and took off again for Nanyuki air base. They are said to have left for Laikipia at 4pm, en route to Wajir, a key staging point for the war in Somalia.
Three of the helicopters never made it.
The multiple accidents and the length of time it has taken to find the planes, if at all they crashed or crash-landed, remains strange. Modern attack helicopters have sophisticated navigation equipment which allows them to fly and find targets even in the dark. The equipment also enables the pilot to know where he is at all times.
Equally, aircraft of that nature are likely to have been monitored by Kenyan air traffic control authorities, particularly from the Laikipia air force base.
An official in the Office of the Kenyan President who is briefed on security matters but is not authorised to comment on defense affairs, said the helicopters flew in formation out of Nanyuki air base and headed southwest for Garrissa. The official says they may have encountered bad weather, which is common in the mountain region.
The official claims the choppers were maintaining radio silence while in flight.
The crashed planes were found high in Mt. Kenya at 11,000ft which made rescue operations difficult, according to the official. In the past it has taken days to locate crashed aircraft and survivors on the mountain.
Officials discovered all was not well when the pilot of the cargo chopper landed after 5.30pm and discovered that the other aircraft was not with him.