Two Ugandan soldiers have died after their helicopter crashed in a remote mountainous region of Kenya, officials have said.
Eight other soldiers were rescued on Tuesday in the second of three combat helicopters to crash en route to Somalia on Sunday. Uganda said initial reports said the aircraft crashed in poor weather.
“We have rescued eight survivors,” said Simon Gitau, a senior warden with the Kenya Wildlife Service, which is involved in the rescue operation. “All of them were in the helicopter that crashed but did not catch fire.”
All seven servicemen onboard the third helicopter were found and rescued on Monday. Uganda has blamed poor weather for the crashes.
The eight survivors found on Tuesday had trekked about 8km through dense forests in search of help.
“They are in good condition after walking away from the crash site,” Gitau said.
“All of them have been airlifted to safety. We are now using sniffer dogs to help trace more survivors, if any, in the forest.”
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki offered his condolences to Uganda and promised “thorough investigations” into the crashes, he said in a statement Tuesday.
“Preliminary information … suggests that it was weather to blame,” Jeje Odongo, Uganda’s state minister for defence, told reporters.
Investigations to follow
The aircraft came down in thickly forested mountainous terrain dominated by snowcapped Mount Kenya, Africa’s second-highest peak, at 5,199 metres.
Wreckage of the two helicopters were found early Tuesday morning, with two dead bodies sighted in one that was still on fire.
“The helicopter is still burning, but we do not know if those were the only two soldiers inside or if there are others. We are yet to confirm that,” Gitau added.
It had earlier been reported that both aircraft had been burnt.
The helicopters were flying to Somalia to support African Union troops battling al-Shabab fighters who have vowed to topple the country’s Western-backed government.
A fourth Mi-17 transport helicopter that had taken off from Uganda on Sunday as part of the same mission landed without problems in the eastern Kenyan town of Garissa near the Somali border for a scheduled refueling stop.
Uganda provides around a third of the nearly 17,000-strong AU force in Somalia, and Kampala had said last week that it would send its first combat and transport helicopters to the Horn of Africa nation.
The aircraft are seen as key to extending gains made against the hardline al-Shabab fighters, who have fled a string of stronghold towns in recent months, stretching AU military resources over a far wider zone.
The UN warned on Tuesday of an ‘imminent” attack on the southern Somali port of Kismayo, the largest remaining stronghold of al-Shabab.
The crashed helicopters would have greatly aided forces ahead of any assault on Kismayo by AU forces.
Kenya invaded southern Somalia last year to attack al-Shabab bases across its eastern border before later joining the AU force.
It has deployed its own air force, including attack helicopters and fighter jets, to bombard al-Shabab positions.
Somalia’s weak and corruption-ridden transitional government, in power for eight years, is due to be replaced later this month through a UN-backed process in which elders will select new leaders.
Source: MWC News