30 UPDF Soldiers Killed in Helicopter Crashes in 10 Years, No Reports

If the numbers reported by the media about Uganda People’s Defence Forces –UPDF soldiers killed in helicopter crashes in the last 10 years are anything to go by, 30 or more soldiers could have perished in them.

But one thing that stands out in all these crashes is the silence of UPDF leadership on giving reports on what has been causing these crashes. This has denied citizens, more so parents, spouses and children who lose their dear ones in such tragedies year in year out to know the truth.

Starting with 2012 crashes of three Uganda helicopters valued at $10m (about 38Billion shillings) on Mt Kenya as they carried 28 troops to Somalia to face off with Al-Shabaab terrorists to the one which crashed in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) less than a week ago killing 22 people, according to Reuters news agency, UPDF has never made public the findings even though they openly set up committees that probe them.

A UPDF helicopter crashed in east DRC on Tuesday this week but no one in the Army has come out to give the exact number of fatalities, injuries or the extent of the damage on the equipment. 

UPDF deployed in DRC in November last year to fight Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) after several Improvised Explosive Devices –IEDs went off in Kampala killing nine people including four suspected suicide bombers while over 40 were injured. Video/CCTV footage where available however indicated that the so-called suicide bombers could have been innocent mules duped into delivering parcels whose content they didn’t know.

Reuters has only quoted the figures of 22 people killed based on DRC sources when a UPDF helicopter Mi-17 majorly used for transportation reportedly hit a tree soon after taking off and it crashed on troops on the ground collecting food it had just delivered.

When contact about the reports, Brig Felix Kulayigye, the Army spokesperson, wondered why one would be asking about reports yet the president has just set up a committee to investigate all the recent and previous UPDF helicopter crashes.

Apart from the Mi-24 that crashed on Monday this week in Fort Portal City, another Mi-24 crashed in Mityana on July 26, but in these incidents no soldier was killed. Last year, UPDF jet ranger crashed at Lido Beach in Entebbe and killed Capt Caroline Busingye.

The Entebbe crash happened six days after another UPDF helicopter came down soon after taking off in Balidogle, Somalia. In 2020, Maj Naome Karungi who was UPDF’s most senior female pilot perished alongside flight trainee Benon Wakola when their jet ranger reportedly hit a hill in Butambala district.

Uganda People’s Defence Air Force –UPDAF spokesperson, Maj Moses Irimaso Mugisha, said he had not accessed any of the reports.

Even though UPDF have not made public reports explaining reasons behind these crashes, there incidents where the forces have been blamed for either being reckless or lacking simple knowledge on routes to take in regard to weather changes or topography.

For instance, the three helicopter crashes in Mt Kenya were majorly blamed on force errors. Mt Kenya in which two Mi24s headed for warzone in Somalia crashed has a 17,000-foot altitude yet such helicopters as experts explained are meant to fly at altitudes below 12,000 feet. It is not clear that such basic knowledge known even to laypersons was ignored.

It was only the Mi17 which had the bigger capacity that managed to handle the situation and landed at Garissa. The soldiers on board were brought back home safe while their colleagues whose actual fatalities numbers remained in speculation did not survive the disaster.

Hopefully, Maj Gen Charles Okidi’s committee as directed by president Museveni will made a comprehensive report in all these crashes and and restore the confidence of the citizens of the safety of their servicemen and women and by extension, the safety of the country. Maj Gen Okidi is the deputy UPDAF commander. 

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