Skip to main content

Survivors of Ugandan helicopter crashes sought in Kenya

From David McKenzie, CNN
August 14, 2012 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Rescue teams searched for survivors Tuesday after three military helicopters bound for Somalia crashed.
Rescue teams searched for survivors Tuesday after three military helicopters bound for Somalia crashed.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Ugandan commander says 21 people are accounted for; seven are missing
  • Rescuers found items arranged at one of the crash sites, indicating survivors
  • Three helicopters came down on the side of Mount Kenya Sunday
  • The survivors may encounter tough conditions in the remote and rugged area

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) -- Rescue teams searched Tuesday for seven people thought to have survived after three military helicopters came down on the side of Kenya's highest mountain, in a remote area that is home to leopards and rhinoceros.

Two of the helicopters crashed and the third crash-landed on Mount Kenya Sunday as they were on their way to join a peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

Lt. Gen. Edward Katumba Wamala, Uganda's commander of army land forces, said Tuesday that 21 people had been accounted for and the search continues for seven more.

Ugandan military helicopters go missing

One of the aircraft could be seen burned out on the side of Mount Kenya, said Gen. J.J. Odongo, Uganda's defense minister. However, the military can neither confirm nor deny any deaths at the moment, he said.

The passengers in the helicopter which crash-landed were found and rescued Monday after the pilot issued a distress call.

Kenyan military officer Brig. Francis Ogola said the sites where the other two helicopters crashed have now been found and that military and police aircraft are carrying out a search for the presumed survivors.

"The fate of the occupants remains unknown," Ogola said. However, the team at one of the sites found "no dead bodies," but rather "items ... arranged in a matter that suggest that they have evacuated from that location and they are somewhere in the mountain."

This is cause for "good hope" that the soldiers and airmen will be found, Ogola said.

Conditions on the mountainside may be tough, however.

The survivors will have to contend with rugged terrain and altitude. Mount Kenya is the second-highest peak on the African continent, after Kilimanjaro, at just over 17,000 feet, according to UNESCO.

According to the Mount Kenya park service and UNESCO, elephants, rhinos, giant forest hogs and leopards are among the creatures that live in the area. The mountain sides are riven by steep valleys and the vegetation is alpine higher up, changing to bamboo further down the slopes, UNESCO says.

Odongo said the crashes were an "accident" and that the helicopters were in "good condition."

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has appointed a panel to investigate the cause of the accidents, which will be headed by the president's younger brother, Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho, Odongo said.

However, Odongo said the cause was turbulence due to "bad weather."

Only one helicopter in the group of four made it to their next scheduled stop in Garissa, Kenya, where they were due to refuel.

The helicopters were part of the first deployment of air support for the African Union Mission in Somalia in Mogadishu, where Ugandan, Burundian and other African Union forces are fighting Al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked group.

Odongo said the Ugandan government and army would reassess their capacity to continue with the deployment of military air power to AMISOM following the crashes.

It had taken Uganda more than three months to prepare for the deployment, he added, with all crew undergoing U.N. training.

The aircraft left Nanyuki, in Kenya's Rift Valley, after originally being dispatched last week from Entebbe, Uganda.

Ugandan army spokesman Col. Felix Kulayigye said that one helicopter pilot then made a distress call saying he had made an emergency landing in the mountains.

The pilot and crew of that helicopter were rescued and have been taken safely to Nanyuki Air Force Base, he said.

Al-Shabaab, which has battled Somalia's weak transitional government since 2007, controls much of southern Somalia and is active around the capital city of Mogadishu. The United States listed it as a terror organization in 2008.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for suicide bombings that killed more than 70 people in Uganda in 2010 and has threatened attacks against U.S., Kenyan and Burundian interests in the region.

Journalist Gregory Branch contributed to this report from Kampala, Uganda.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.
ADVERTISEMENT