‘Frozen in death, gone to another mission’

Teresa Luseka, mother of the late Martin Miheso speaks by his grave

Kenya: In early September 2012, Lieutenant Martin Miheso, 24, a pilot with the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) was in Nairobi when his leave was cut short by the call of duty. He was ordered to report to work urgently.

A close relative drove him hurriedly to Wilson Airport from where he caught a flight to Lamu. He checked into a local hotel for the night in line with military procedures. He was with three other officers.

Miheso, who loved rock music, woke up late in the night to get a ride to Somalia. He left in such a hurry to catch the 11pm flight that he forgot his shoes and a few other personal items in the hotel. 

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The chartered aircraft was being operated by a civilian pilot, who was the brother of his friend at the Manda Island naval air base, where he also worked.

About 600 metres into take-off, the aircraft – a Cessna 310 twin-engine piston – crashed and exploded into flames, killing all on board on the spot except the pilot.

KDF says the plane was coming back to Nairobi but people familiar with the operation said the plane was on a surveillance mission.

United States marines based at Manda Bay were the first to arrive at the scene with buckets of water to help put out the flames.

There was no fire engine within the air base. The pilot was the only one pulled out of the wreckage alive. Miraculously, he was still talking. But the miracle was short lived.

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He died shortly after being airlifted to Nairobi. Miheso was one of the three men who died on that dark night of September 10 alongside one other KDF soldier.

KDF said the light aircraft went down due to mechanical failure, ostensibly ending the career of one of Kenya’s most promising young military pilots.

The Manda crash cut short the life of a man who the country had counted on just weeks earlier to help rescue a Ugandan military aircraft that had crashed in the Mt Kenya Forest in August 2012. 

Lt Miheso was a decorated soldier. He had been commissioned as the second lieutenant in 2009 and awarded the presidential cane of honour by retired President Mwai Kibaki.

Death premonition

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At his home in Kakamega County, his mementos and pictures proudly fill the family’ living room.  One photo stands prominently on a special table that also has two albums with his photos. Martin’s pictures also hang imposingly from the walls of the family house.

His father, Luseka Miheso, who lives at his Shibwe home in Kakamega County, describes him as a “lovely, intelligent young boy”. He says his son had a premonition of his own death.

“I can hear the national anthem playing. When I remember those words now, in actual sense, Martin was telling me he had finished his assignment. It was a premonition of his death,” Luseka says of the last conversation he had with his son.

Miheso loved the stirring sound of the national anthem played by the military band. It was in that conversation that he told his father that he had “achieved a great deal in his area of work”.

He says his son grew up always wanting to be a pilot and loved playing with toy aeroplanes as a child.

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Born into a family of four children, two boys and two girls, there was always sibling rivalry between Martin and his brother, Peter, who is now training with the British army.

“There was even a fight between him and his brother Peter when he was the only one who made it to the Air Force shortlist. Both my sons had applied and Peter thought I had something to do with it but I didn’t,” recalls Luseka.

 His mother, Teresa Luseka, shares fond memories of his birth. “We brought him home in a blue Volkswagen. Martin was nicknamed ‘my lily’ in his childhood,” she chuckles.

Martin began his schooling at Mumias Complex Primary school.  He joined Booker Academy in 1994, from where he sat his primary school national examinations. In that year, he was the best candidate in Kakamega district and was ranked in position 45 nationally.

Dignified send-off

He joined Mang’u High School for his secondary school education and scored a mean grade of B+ in his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education.

He was admitted to the University of Nairobi to do a business course but astonishingly, he turned it down and instead opted to pursue aviation.

He joined cadet school in 2007 at the Lanet barracks between 2007 and 2009.

His family remains grateful to the military for the dignified send-off after they agreed to fly his remains home.  “I am frozen in death, but I walk amongst you. So stay, stay for me there my friends. I am gone to another mission,” a poem eulogising him reads in part.

Martin’s family says he died doing what he loved. His cooking skills will also be missed by his family.

“We used to tell him that if he wasn’t a pilot, he would have been a chef,” the eulogy reads.  On the day he died, Martin had told his family he would bring them red snapper fish from the sea. 

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