All seven UPDF soldiers who died in the three choppers that crashed on Mt. Kenya last week were yesterday laid to rest in different parts of the country even as controversy continued to shroud the calamity.
The mood was sombre and tears of agony flowed even as words in praise of the fallen servicemen were said at different burial sites as the mourners paid last tributes to the victims.
In Arua, the air force commander, Lt. Gen. Jim Owoyesigire, again eulogised Capt. William Spear Letti as one of the most experienced and hardworking pilots in air force.
But the burial was overshadowed by controversies over where exactly to lay the officer to rest. Two graves were dug, one at the home of his father and the other on his mother’s land.
The army finally relied on his will in which Capt. Letti had indicated that he would be buried at his mother’s place in Bunyu Village in Oluko Sub-county, Arua District.
Gen. Elly Tumwine told mourners at the burial of Lt. Patrick Nahamya in Akakoma Village in Rushere Parish, Kensunga Nyabushozi, that incidents like plane crash should not scare parents from sending their sons and daughters to join the army.
Lt. Nahamya’s father, Rev. James Katamunanwire, described his son as a hero who dedicated his life to peace making. “Whoever dies on a frontline or on the way to a frontline is a good Christian,” he said.
Weeks before his death, 2nd Lt. Robert Tushabe had gone to the village to reconcile with all his neighbours he had differences with and also bought Holy Communion cups for Mugore Church of Uganda, Gen. Tumwine said in his speech. Mugore is also in Kiruhura District.
Air Force chief of staff, Brig. Moses Rwakitarate, who was the chief mourner at the burial of S/Sgt. Mweshezi Ruhamata, disputed reports that the choppers were junk.
Brig. Gowa Kasita, the commandant at the of Senior Command and Staff College, Kimaka, described WOII Moses Kakube as a hardworking flight engineer.
Mystery continues to surround this air disaster with the army yesterday refusing to respond to earlier comments made by the wife of Capt. Letti, Juliet, that a day before his death, he called her saying his unit was in Mombasa. This assertion would seem to contradict the army’s explanation on the route used by the crashed choppers.
The military said last week that the crashed choppers flew from Soroti in eastern Uganda then across the border to Kenya’s Eldoret and Nanyuki before crashing on Mount Kenya on their way to Garissa on August 12. However, Ms Letti told Daily Monitor on Saturday that her late husband had called her on Saturday to say they were stuck in Mombasa.
UPDF spokesperson Col. Felix Kulayigye yesterday said the army “can only account” for the dead soldiers but won’t respond to comments made by the grieved families.
“I can only say that none of those officers were in Mombasa. Otherwise, I won’t comment on what the grieved relatives are saying,” he said.
Three weeks ago, Col. Kulayigye said the choppers had reached safely in Mogadishu, Somalia but a few days later, the same choppers went missing in Kenya.
The army spokesperson, who had earlier talked to us, could not answer our repeated calls to explain this issue. All seven crew members of one of the three crashed MI-24 choppers died on the way to Mogadishu to reinforce Ugandan forces fighting Somali insurgents.
They were buried yesterday in their ancestral homes in different parts of the country amid many unanswered questions on what could have happened.
Government has set up a board of inquiry chaired by the President’s younger brother, Gen. Salim Saleh, to investigate the cause of the multiple helicopter crashes in Kenya.
When asked when the inquiry would start, Col. Kulayigye referred this newspaper to Gen. Saleh whose known phone number was off.
According to military sources, the inquiry will involve interviewing all air force commanders, Kenyan air traffic controllers and Kenyan airbase commanders in Nanyuki.
The Ugandan air force commander, Lt. Gen. Jim Owoyesigire, has refuted reports that the crashed choppers were junk.
”If you want to prove that we don’t have junk equipment, join the bush and prove us wrong,” he said on Friday at the Entebbe Airbase during a function to welcome the survivors of the crash.