NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 16 – A search and rescue operation for four missing Ugandan soldiers ended in Mount Kenya on Thursday after their charred remains were found next to the wreckage of their burnt helicopter.,
The bodies were found at the site on Thursday afternoon raising to the number of bodies found since Sunday when the helicopter crashed and caught fire to seven.
“We have now accounted for all the seven soldiers who were in the ill-fated helicopter. We found four bodies in the wreckage this (Thursday) afternoon, we found one yesterday and two others on Tuesday,” Military Spokesman Bogita Ongeri said.
Ongeri said the bodies would be airlifted to Nairobi for preservation at the Forces Memorial Hospital before being transported to Uganda.
The helicopter crashed on Sunday evening en-route to Somalia where the soldiers were going to reinforce Amisom forces fighting Al Shabaab insurgents.
Among those killed in the helicopter crash are pilots Captain William Letti and Lieutenant Patrick Nahamya, according to Ugandan authorities. Letti and Nahamya were in control of helicopter AF 806, Mi-24 which went down in the dense forest on Sunday and exploded into flames.
Fifteen of their colleagues who were flying in two helicopters were rescued after they managed to walk to safety when their aircraft crashed in the same forest.
The three helicopters crashed within a radius of one kilometre, according to officials who were involved in the search and rescue operation.
The rescue operation was carried out by personnel from the Kenya Defence Force (KDF), Police, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and crew from private helicopter operators Tropic Air and ALS.
The four-day rescue was hampered by heavy rains which made it difficult for the operation to proceed uninterrupted.
Ugandan authorities have blamed the mishaps on bad weather, although conclusive investigations are yet to be carried out.
“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 has pledged to cooperate with Ugandan authorities to thoroughly investigate the cause of the multiple helicopter crashes that killed the seven soldiers and left 15 others wounded.