, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 15 – The death toll from the Ugandan helicopter crash in Mount Kenya has hit three after rescuers discovered another charred body of a soldier in a wreckage.
The discovery on Wednesday following the sighting of two other bodies at the same scene where one of the ill-fated choppers caught fire raises fears that all of its seven occupants may have perished.
Two bodies believed to be those of the pilot and co-pilot were found on Tuesday in the cockpit when rescuers located the burnt wreckage of one of the three choppers that crashed in the forest on Sunday.
The other two helicopters crashed but they did not catch fire and all their crews have already been evacuated back to Uganda.
“Another burnt body has been discovered in the helicopter wreckage,” Military Spokesman Bogita Ongeri said.
“Rescuers have had to leave the crash site because of heavy rains pounding the area but they are expected back when the weather becomes favourable,” he added.
Fifteen soldiers who were part of the mission to Somalia were rescued on Tuesday and have already been flown back Uganda, after spending a night in Nairobi.
Four soldiers who were in the burnt helicopter remain unaccounted for.
Military officials said rescuers comprising explosive and firearm, as well as forensics experts had been dispatched to the crash sites of the two helicopters.
“At the site where a helicopter crashed and caught fire, the forensics personnel are supposed to help establish if there are any more bodies or body parts other than the two found in the cockpit,” a military officer said Tuesday.
There are slight hopes, however, that the four missing soldiers may have survived the crash and walked off the crash site just like their eight colleagues who were found eight kilometres away from their helicopter wreckage that crashed and failed to explode on impact.
“We are not ruling out any possibility at this point, but we are prepared for anything that is why we have a team searching for them in the forest and another group of experts assessing the wreckage,” the officer who is involved in the operation but has no express mandate to brief the press, said.
He said the experts would also examine the scene to establish if there are dangerous explosives or rifles because the Ugandan soldiers were headed for war in Somalia with heavy artillery.
Seven others soldiers were rescued from their helicopter wreckage on Monday.
Ugandan authorities have said the three Ugandan military aircraft may have crashed due to bad weather as they headed to Somalia on Sunday to reinforce AMISOM forces in their push for Kismayu.
“Preliminary information suggests that it was weather to blame,” Jeje Odongo, Uganda’s State Minister for Defence, told reporters, without offering more information.
Only one helicopter made it to Garissa for a scheduled refuelling en route to Somalia.
Kenya said on Tuesday it would cooperate with Ugandan authorities to thoroughly investigate the cause of the multiple helicopter crashes that killed at least three soldiers and left 15 others wounded.
“President Kibaki assured his counterpart, President Yoweri Museveni and the government and people of Uganda that all rescue efforts would continue in search of survivors,” a dispatch from State House said.
“President Mwai Kibaki has on behalf of the Government and people of Kenya sent a message of condolences to the families of the members of the Uganda People’s Defence Force who perished when their helicopters crashed in Kenya on their way to the Republic of Somalia. The President also wished the injured quick recovery,” Kibaki’s press team, PPS said.
Kenya’s Chief of Defence Forces, General Julius Karangi told reporters Tuesday that Ugandan authorities are constantly briefed on the developments of the search and rescue mission.