Akin To India’s Bipin Rawat’s Death, Kenyan Military General Dies In Tragic Chopper Crash 400 Km From Nairobi

In a tragic incident — echoing a similar catastrophe that took place in India a little over two years ago — Kenya’s military leadership lost its Chief of the Defence Forces when he perished in a helicopter crash. 

The helicopter, carrying General Francis Omondi Ogolla and his team, went down in the western part of Kenya on April 18, in a remote area of Elgeyo Marakwet county, approximately 400 kilometers northwest of Nairobi. 

The helicopter, a Bell UH-1B, commonly known as the “Huey,” crashed shortly after takeoff from the village of Chesegon, where General Ogolla had been visiting a school.  

President William Ruto delivered the news in a televised address. He expressed profound sorrow over the passing of General Ogolla and nine other military personnel who were on board the ill-fated aircraft. Two individuals survived the crash.

Ogolla enlisted in the Kenya Defence Forces on April 24, 1984. He was set to commemorate four decades of service in the military next week. 

President Ruto also announced the dispatch of a Kenya Air Force investigation team to ascertain the cause of the crash as the nation grapples with the loss of one of its military stalwarts.

The fatal flight departed from the village of Chesegon, following stops in various regions to inspect Kenyan troops and other strategic sites. This unfortunate incident marks the fifth military helicopter crash within 12 months, prompting concerns over the condition and maintenance of the aging aircraft. 

The Bell UH-1B helicopter involved in the crash has roots tracing back to the 1950s and was extensively utilized by the United States military during the Vietnam War. 

The recurrence of such incidents underscores the imperative for stringent safety protocols and thorough maintenance checks within Kenya’s military aviation sector. 

General Ogolla’s mission on the day of the crash was part of Operation Maliza Uhalifu, aimed at combating crime in the North Rift region, plagued by armed banditry and cattle rustling. 

The Chief of the Kenya Defense Forces, General Francis Omondi Ogolla

India Also Lost Its Military Boss To Chopper Crash

The Kenya incident, a replay of a similar tragedy involving India’s defense chief over two years ago, has once again drawn global attention to the safety concerns surrounding military air operations. 

In December 2021, India was rocked by the news of the demise of the country’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, in a helicopter crash that also claimed the lives of several other military personnel. 

General Rawat held a pivotal role established by the government in 2019. His close association with Prime Minister Narendra Modi underscored his significance within India’s military spheres.

The ill-fated journey aboard a Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter ended tragically near its destination in southern Tamil Nadu state, marking a profound setback for India. At the time, India was contending with heightened tensions along its Himalayan border with China, further magnifying the impact of General Rawat’s untimely passing.

Similarly, General Francis Omondi Ogolla’s sudden demise has left Kenya mourning the loss of a distinguished military leader. General Ogolla, whose illustrious career began as a 2nd lieutenant in Kenya’s air force, had ascended through the ranks to become Commander of the Kenyan Air Force in 2018.

He held this position for three years before assuming the role of vice chief of the defense forces in 2021. 

File Image: India’s Bipin Rawat

General Ogolla took on the role of Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces in April 2023, the top military advisory role to the president. Last May, President Ruto informed journalists that he had appointed Ogolla despite his involvement in efforts to challenge his (Ruto’s) narrow victory against opposition leader Raila Odinga in 2022. 

Ruto stated, “When I looked at his CV, he was the best person to be (a) general.” Condolences poured in from various quarters, including the African Union, regional grouping the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the US, British, and EU embassies in Kenya.

IGAD Secretary-General Workneh Gebeyehu tweeted, “Deeply saddened by the news of the tragic helicopter crash that claimed the lives of 8 KDF forces, including Kenya Defence Force Chief Gen. Francis Omondi Ogolla. This loss is not only felt by Kenya but also by the entire region.”