Nation mourns a gallant General

Friday, April 19th, 2024 03:00 | By
Remains of KDF soldiers who died in a chopper crash on Thursday
Remains of KDF soldiers who died in a chopper crash on Thursday. PHOTO/Screengrab by PD Digital

The Chief of Defence Forces General Francis Omondi Ogolla and nine other military officers yesterday died in a military helicopter crash at the Kaben-Cheptulel border between Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot counties.

Following the crash, President William Ruto flew back to Nairobi and convened an urgent meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) at State House and later announced the fatal crash.

“Today, at 2.20pm, our nation suffered a tragic air accident in Sindar area, Keben location, Tot division, in Elgeyo Marakwet county. I am deeply saddened to announce the passing on of General Francis Omondi Ogolla, the Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces,” the president said.

Others who died in the crash included Brigadier Swaleh Saidi, Colonel Duncan Keitany, Lieutenant Colonel David Sawe, Major George Benson Magondu, who was also the pilot, Captain Sora Mohammed, Captain Hillary Litali, Senior Sergeant John Kinyua Mureithi, Sergeant Cliphonce Omondi and Sergeant Rose Nyawira.

“A distinguished four-star General has fallen in the course of duty and in the service of the country. I convey my deepest condolences to all families that are grieving this untimely loss and our mourning nation as well,” the president said as he also wished the injured soldiers  quick recovery.

The CDF and his entourage left Nairobi in the morning to visit the troops involved in the Operation Maliza Uhalifu. He later visited several schools including Chesitet Primary School, Cheptulel Boys High School, Chepoton Primary School, Ksaa Primary School; and Sablimoi Primary School.

They then proceeded to Kainuk Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Turkana county where he was briefed by the multi-agency team.

At Kainuk, the CDF addressed the troops and commended them for their resilience before proceeding to Chesegon in West Pokot where he launched the rehabilitation of Cheptulel boys high school.

Probe launched

After inspection, he boarded the chopper to proceed to the Recruits Training School (RTS) in Uasin Gishu where he was to inspect an ongoing construction.

“Unfortunately, the aircraft crashed shortly after take off. This is a very sad moment,” President Ruto said. “It is a most unfortunate day for the nation at large. Our motherland has lost one of her most valiant generals.

We have also lost gallant officers, service men and women. It is a painful loss to me,” he added.

The President also said the Kenya Air Force has constituted and dispatched an air investigations team to establish the cause of the plane crash.

“In honour of the life and the distinguished military career of the fallen general, who lost his life not just while in office, but in active military duty, the nation will observe a period of 3 days of mourning,” President Ruto said.

The mourning begins today, April 19, and during this period, the Kenyan flag, the KDF flag, and the Eastern Africa Community flag shall fly at half-mast in the Republic of Kenya and Kenya missions abroad.

Gen Ogolla and his team left Nairobi yesterday in the morning.

The National Security Council (NSC) met yesterday but did not announce some of the resolutions. The NSC consists of the President, the Deputy President, Cabinet Secretaries for Interior, Defence and Foreign Affairs, the Attorney-General, the CDF, the Director-General of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the Inspector-General of Police.

On April 8, President Ruto ordered the deployment of the KDF in the insecurity prone West Pokot.

Speaking during the commissioning of the Cemtech Limited clinker plant in West Pokot, Ruto ordered the immediate deployment of KDF officers to undertake the construction of classes burnt down by bandits and repair those falling apart due to neglect.

Over 20 schools have been closed indefinitely in Baringo and five others in West Pokot following incessant banditry attacks in the region.

The cause of the crash was not immediately established.  This was the first such accident to claim the lives of senior military officers.

Gen Ogolla was to retire next year and the next CDF was to come from the Kenya Navy.

The chopper is said to have been carrying 12 people including officers of the rank of General when it went down.

Witnesses said it burst into flames on crashing, killing the occupants on board except two.

Reports indicate the senior officers were surveying the area ahead of planned deployment of more troops there to battle cattle rustlers.

Decorated career

Ogolla, then the Vice CDF was on April 28, 2023 promoted from the rank of Lieutenant General to the rank of General by President William Ruto, who then appointed him the CDF. The swearing in ceremony and investiture of ranks was held at the State House the following day, April 29.

Section 9 (2), (a) of the Kenya Defence Forces Act gives the President, who is the Commander of the defence forces, to appoint the CDF, Vice CDF and the Service Commanders.

Gen Ogolla joined the KDF on April 24, 1984 and was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant on May 6, 1985 and posted to the Kenya Air Force.

He trained as a fighter pilot with USAF and as an instructor pilot at the Kenya Air Force (KAF).

He also trained in other fields including imagery intelligence, counter terrorism and accident investigation, according to the Department of Defence (DoD) headquarters.

He is a graduate of ÉcoleMilitaire de Paris and National Defence College of Kenya.

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