UPDF officer dies in helicopter crash, mechanical fault blamed

Friday February 12 2021
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Caroline Busingye who died in the plane crash. PHOTO | COURTESY

By Eve Muganga

The military helicopter that crashed close to Entebbe International Airport yesterday, killing Capt Carol Busingye, likely suffered a mechanical malfunction, highly-placed security sources said last night.

Still, investigators will inquire into whether human error or environmental factors contributed to the mishap in which Cadet (trainee) pilot Abdallah Musa, who was being instructed by Busingye, reportedly suffered severe injuries and is in critical condition at Kisubi Hospital near Entebbe.  

A source that asked not to be named in order not to unduly influence investigations, said the rotor blades of the Agusta-Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter stopped working a few minutes after it lifted off from Runway 30 before it plunged down from the skies.

The rotor system is essential to generate aerodynamic lift force and maintain the helicopter’s forward flight.

“It (the helicopter) just dropped rapidly from the air like a stone,” a UPDF officer said.

The wreckage of the blue multi-purpose chopper was strewn on the carriageway of Entebbe Airport road, close to the turn-off to Speenah Beach. 

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A battery of security forces, including armed Uganda People’s Defence Air Force (UPDAF) and regular soldier, regular and Anti-Terrorism police as well as traffic and anti-riot police, cordoned off the area.

Boda boda cyclists and pedestrians were turned away while journalists were restricted dozens of metres away from the crash site. The security forces gave no reason for the restrictions, but affected persons presumed it was to secure the site for investigations.

Vehicles to and from Entebbe International Airport were restricted to one side of the double-carriageway road and motorists were not allowed to slow down, stop or take pictures of the wreckage.  

Busingye, a mother of one, and trainee pilot Musa were reportedly under the charge of a Tanzanian flight instructor, who was not on-board the ill-fated chopper, and planned to fly from Entebbe via Kampala to Mukono and back.

A witness who asked not to be named, fearing reprisal by the military, said “ I saw the blue chopper staggering near a blue billboard just around Speenah beach…eventually it crashed [to the ground] at around 2pm.’’

The witness’s account was corroborated by Defence spokesperson, Brig Flavia Byekwaso, who yesterday tweeted that: “Today (yesterday) afternoon, at about 2.15pm, a Jet Ranger piloted by two cadet trainees on a mutual training flight came down immediately after take-off near Lido beach. The two were rushed to hospital to ascertain their health. Our aviation team is on ground to investigate the mishap”. 

The crash site is close to the army Airbase at Old Entebbe Airport and military sources said they use the single-engine Agusta-Bell for basic flight training, VIP transportation and general purpose.

The statement made no reference to the death of Capt Busingye, whom a witness said hit her head on the bitumen road surface and fractured her legs, and breathed her last as an army ambulance rushed her and Musa to Kisubi Hospital.

 Capt Busingye is the second UPDAF female pilot to die in a helicopter crash after Maj Naome Karungi who, together with Cadet Pilot Benon Wakalo, perished in another Jet Ranger crash in Butambala in January 2020.

 The military has never released to the public the findings and recommendations of the investigation into last year’s accident which a security source last night said could have averted yesterday’s fatal mishap.  

 The army leadership has also shelved another report of investigations into an August 2012 incident in which three UPDAF Mi24 helicopters en-route to fight al-Shabaab in Somalia, crashed into Mt Kenya, killing at least seven pilots.

 Just last Friday, four UPDF soldiers were injured when their helicopter went down in southern Somalia. 

The condition of the quartet and where they are receiving treatment remains unclear.

About Captain Busingye

Capt Busingye joined the army in 2007 and was later in 2008 sent on an exchange Cadet Course to Monduli Military Academy in Tanzania where she graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant.

In 2009, Busingye went to Nakasongola for the first aviation course and upon completion in 2010, she started flying the Jet Ranger which killed her yesterday.

According to sources, she and her colleague Pilot Cadet Abdallah Musa were being trained by a retired Tanzanian Captain.

They were on mutual training and were supposed to fly to Kampala, Mukono and then return to Entebbe but sources said the plane’s rotor blades stopped rotating and it came down a few minutes after the take-off.

Already a Captain in UPDAF, Busingye was due to graduate as a Flight Captain in May, this year. The two were training to fly in all weather, landing in mountainous and confined areas, flying at night and cross-country flying.

Ms Busingye, who was born again left a one-year child.

The army spokesperson, Brig Flavia Byekwaso said their aviation team had started investigations. “It’s unfortunate [that] Carol Busingye has passed on from Kisubi Hospital and our team is on [the] ground to investigate the mishap,” she said.  Pilot Cadet Musa was still at Kisubi Hospital last evening.

Additional reporting by Risdel Kasasira

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