Five escape wrecked Ugandan helicopter, two dead
By Daniel Wesangula
NAIROBI — At least five Ugandan servicemen survived the crash of two army helicopters in Kenya en route to war-torn Somalia with two confirmed dead, officials said Tuesday.
"The good news is that we have managed to find five survivors and they have just been airlifted to safety," said Simon Gitau, a senior warden with the Kenya Wildlife Service, which is involved in the rescue operation.
"They are in good condition after walking away from the crash site," he added.
Three Russian-made Mi-245 combat helicopters crashed Sunday in a remote mountainous region of Kenya while flying to Somalia. One was found on Monday, with all seven servicemen on board rescued.
Wreckage of the other helicopters were found early Tuesday morning, with two dead bodies sighted in one that was still on fire, Gitau said.
Kenyan Chief of Defence Forces, General Julius Karangi told reporters that one helicopter "had been found burnt completely, and the other one hanging somewhere on the cliff."
It had earlier been reported that both aircraft had been burnt in the crash.
Fourteen servicemen in all were thought to have been aboard the two ill-fated helicopters, leaving seven people still unaccounted for.
A third helicopter on the same mission also crashed in forests in the Mount Kenya region late Sunday, but all seven Ugandan servicemen aboard were rescued on Monday after they managed to radio for help.
The three Russian-made Mi-24 combat helicopters were flying to Somalia to support African Union troops battling Shebab insurgents linked to Al-Qaeda who have vowed to topple the country's Western-backed government.
The aircraft came down in thickly forested mountainous terrain dominated by snowcapped Mount Kenya, Africa's second-highest peak at 5,199 metres (17,057 feet).
Wild animals including elephants, leopards and rhinos prowl the forests, about 110 kilometres (70 miles) north of the capital Nairobi.
An 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 Shebab insurgents, who have fled a string of stronghold towns in recent months, stretching AU military resources over a far wider zone.
Kenya invaded southern Somalia last year to attack Shebab 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 Shebab 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.
Bowed down by repeated droughts and riven by more than two decades of conflict, Somalia is torn between rival clans, Islamist insurgents and the government, which is propped up by the AU force.