NEWS– President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who is also the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces has ordered Deputy Airforce commander, Maj Gen Charles Okidi, to head investigations into how and why two military helicopters, which cost millions of dollars, dropped from the air three days apart.
This comes after more than a number of Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) soldiers are reported to have died in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo after a helicopter crashed.
Its reported that Mi-17 helicopter, which is mainly used for transportation, medical evacuation and VIP travel, had just delivered food consignment to the troops engaged in Operation Shujaa when it tumbled and exploded during take-off.
The UPDF spokesman, Brig Gen Felix Kulayigye has confirmed in a telephone interview that a Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter crashed in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo but did not divulge more details about the number of the dead officers.
Gen Museveni immediately ordered a board of inquiry to investigate how and why military helicopters were dropping from the skies.
However, highly-placed security sources said the tail rotor of the helicopter, which was technically on a captain-supervised flight, struck a tree, leading it to spin uncontrollably before crashing on troops collecting the food.
According to the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the tail rotor is an essential component which helps to “neutralise the twisting momentum” of the main propeller, that keeps a helicopter steady in flight.
In helicopter crash on Monday, instructor-cum-pilot has been named as Ukrainian national Yury Vyshykvy and died on the spot while the Ugandan pilot, Capt Patrick Arinaitwe, and five other crew members sustained varied injuries and victims have been moved to Bombo Military Hospital for treatment.
The Democratic Republic of Congo accident occurred 3 days after an Mi-24 attack helicopter went down on an elderly woman’s house in Fort Portal City, Kabarole District on Saturday, last week raising safety concerns for an important service of the military.
Preliminary findings attribute the crash in western Uganda to technical errors because the crew manning the ill-fated helicopter had specially been trained to fly Mi-28, Uganda’s latest and more modern fire-power acquisition in the sky.
According to an inside sources, 3 of the Uganda Peoples Defence Airforce choppers had flown out to Fort Portal in a formation, before one dropped from the skies and the two others landed successfully.
Trusted sources said the Mi-17 helicopter did not land on first attempt in Congo because the cleared helicopter landing zone, or HLZ, on the ground was smaller than the recommended 50-by-50 metre area.
The pilots were radioed to return on the understanding that the landing area had been expanded, and the helicopter landed smoothly, however, during lift-off, the tail rotor hit a tree, yanking the machine to spin before slamming to the ground.
It remains a subject of the investigation to establish how instructor-cum-pilot Yury, who was the most qualified and senior flight professional onboard, died when the Ugandans he was teaching all survived.
The latest back-to-back accidents follow the death of Capt Carol Busingye on February 12th 2021 in a helicopter that crashed shortly after lifting off from Entebbe International Airport.
Earlier in January 2020, Maj Naome Karungi and Cadet Pilot Benon Wakalo on a training flight, perished in a Jet Ranger crash in Butambala District in central Uganda.
The worst air disaster in UPDF history, happened in August 2012 when 7 out of a 28-member crew flying to bomb the al-Shabaab in Somalia lost their lives in multiple Mi-24 helicopter crashes on Mountain Kenya.