Kenya mourns defence chief killed in helicopter crash

Published April 19, 2024
A man looks at a newspaper with the headline of the death of defence chief General Francis Omondi Ogolla and nine other senior military officers who were killed in a helicopter crash, in Nairobi on April 19. — AFP
A man looks at a newspaper with the headline of the death of defence chief General Francis Omondi Ogolla and nine other senior military officers who were killed in a helicopter crash, in Nairobi on April 19. — AFP

Kenya began three days of mourning on Friday after its defence chief and nine other senior officers were killed in a helicopter crash, the latest military accident involving a high-profile figure.

General Francis Omondi Ogolla, the Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces (CDF), was killed when his helicopter went down shortly after takeoff in a remote forested area of northwestern Kenya on Thursday.

“A distinguished four-star general has fallen in the course of duty and service of the country,” President William Ruto said as he announced the deaths that evening.

He said the nation would observe three days of mourning from Friday, with the national flag flying at half-mast across the country and at Kenyan missions abroad.

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

“Final salute” was the front-page headline in the leading Daily Nation newspaper, while The Standard wrote: “General’s tragic last moments”.

The bodies of the victims, draped in Kenyan flags, were returned to a military base in Nairobi on an air force plane late on Thursday.

‘Trying to keep Kenya safe’

Ogolla, a trained fighter pilot, had been promoted to the role by Ruto just a year ago and was about to mark 40 years of military service.

He had been visiting troops deployed in Operation Maliza Uhalifu (Operation End Crime in Swahili) in the North Rift region, where insecurity caused by armed bandits and cattle rustlers is rife.

Ruto said the Air Force had dispatched an investigation team to establish the cause of the crash that involved a “Huey” helicopter.

Ogolla’s daughter Lorna Ogolla said in a poignant post on LinkedIn that her father died “doing what he did best for the better part of the last 40 years — trying to keep Kenya safe”.

Messages of condolence were sent from across the country and the African continent and the United Nations, the United States and other Kenyan allies.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan described him as a “valuable partner” in relations with Kenya.

“From combatting terrorist threats posed by Al-Shabaab to leading efforts to bolster regional cooperation across a range of domains, he has left an indelible mark,” he said in a statement.

The Standard newspaper said it was the fifth armed forces helicopter crash in 12 months, with claims that the country’s military aircraft were old and poorly maintained.

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

Ogolla, who was born in 1962, is not the only high-profile victim of an air crash in Kenya, with several dignitaries killed in recent years.

In 2012, Internal Security Minister George Saitoti, seen as a possible presidential candidate, was among six people killed in a police helicopter crash.

Ogolla, a married father of two, joined the KDF in April 1984, rising through the ranks to command the Kenyan Air Force in 2018, a post he held for three years before becoming vice chief of the defence forces in 2021 and then chief in April 2023.

Under Kenyan military regulations, the defence chief normally retires at 62 or after four years in the post, whichever comes first.

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