Kenya pays military homage to army chief killed in copter crash

With a 19-gun cannon salute and a religious ceremony Kenya on Saturday paid a military tribute to its army chief who died in a helicopter accident this week.

Kenyan President William Ruto, along with Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and opposition leader Raila Odinga, attended the ceremony at the Ulinzi Sports Complex in the capital Nairobi.

Francis Omondi Ogolla’s coffin, topped with the Kenyan flag, entered the enclosure at 1:00 pm (1000 GMT), accompanied by great fanfare before a minute of silence for the former Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces (CDF).

Ogolla and nine other military officials died on Thursday when their helicopter went down in a remote region in the west of the country, just short of a year since his appointment as armed forces head by Ruto.

“It was a sad and very tragic moment for Kenya,” Ruto said in a speech.

The general died aged 62. The defence ministry had previously mistakenly stated that Ogolla was 61.

“General Ogolla represents the best of what Kenya has to offer,” Ruto added, saying that he was “very proud” to have appointed him.

“We are here to say bye-bye to a consummate military officer, an accomplished military commander and a patriotic citizen of Kenya, with great humility.”

Ogolla, a trained fighter pilot, was killed when his helicopter went down shortly after takeoff in the remote Sindar forested area in Elgeyo Marakwet county in northwestern Kenya, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Nairobi.

He had been visiting troops deployed in a security operation in the North Rift region, which is plagued by violence caused by armed bandits and cattle rustlers.

Two military personnel aboard survived the crash.

According to Ruto, the crew were on a Bell UH-1B copter, nicknamed “Huey”, a model developed in the 1950s and used notably by US forces serving in the war in Vietnam.

For his part, Odinga saluted his “personal friend… rest in peace”.

Kenyan media have reported that Thursday’s crash was the fifth involving a Kenyan military copter in the past year with a considerable number old and poorly maintained.

The Kenya Air Force has dispatched a team of investigators to determine what caused the accident which sparked three days of mourning from Friday across the country.

– Worldwide condolences –

Ogolla’s family said in a statement Friday that his funeral would be held Sunday at his home in Siaya in the west of the country, followed by a memorial service in a Nairobi suburb on April 26.

Ogolla, a married father of two with one grandchild, had headed his country’s air force between 2018 and 2021.

He had joined the KDF in April 1984, rising through the ranks to command the air force before going on to become vice chief of the defence forces in 2021 and then chief 12 months ago.

In June 2021, at least 10 soldiers died when their helicopter crashed during a training exercise to the south of Nairobi.

In 2012, internal security minister George Saitoti, seen as a possible presidential candidate, was another high-profile victim as one of six people killed in a police helicopter crash.

Messages of condolence for Thursday’s crash came in from across Kenya and the African continent Friday as well as the United Nations, the United States and allies.

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