- The pilot and co-pilot of one of the crashed helicopters are confirmed dead
- The hunt is on for five crew members who are believed to have survived
- Three helicopters came down on the side of Mount Kenya Sunday
- The survivors may encounter tough conditions in the remote and rugged area
The pilot and co-pilot of a Ugandan helicopter that crashed into the side of Kenya's highest mountain were confirmed dead Wednesday but the hunt continues for five presumed survivors, Uganda's military said.
Two Ugandan military helicopters crashed and a third crash-landed on Mount Kenya Sunday as they were on their way to join a peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
The crew of the helicopter that crash-landed was found and rescued Monday after the pilot issued a distress call. The sites where the other two crashed were found Tuesday.
Those killed were named Wednesday as Capt. William Letti and Lt. Patrick Nahamya, who were pilot and co-pilot of the downed helicopter.
"We extend our deepest condolences to the bereaved families of the departed comrades. Our hearts are with those family members whose dear ones we are still searching for," a statement from the Ugandan Ministry of Defense said.
Lt. Gen. Edward Katumba Wamala, Uganda's commander of army land forces, said Tuesday that 21 people had been accounted for after the crashes.
Kenyan military officer Brig. Francis Ogola said 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.
The helicopters were part of the first deployment of air support for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in Mogadishu, where Ugandan, Burundian and other African Union forces are fighting Al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked group.
AMISOM said Wednesday that its operations in Somalia would continue despite the loss of the helicopters.
"At this time our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the bereaved, as well as with the people and government and security forces of Uganda," said Boubacar Diarra, the African Union's special representative to Somalia.
"We are gravely concerned for the safety of those still unaccounted for and continue to pray that they will be recovered unharmed," he said.
Odongo said Tuesday 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.