CDF Ogolla's last moments in troubled North Rift

Chief of Defence Forces General Francis Omondi Ogolla. The helicopter carrying Ogolla crashed in Sindar area. [File, Standard]

Shortly after taking off at Chesegon along the border of Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot counties, the plane carrying Chief of Defence Forces General Francis Omondi Ogolla and his entourage dropped from the skies and burst into flames.

The tragic crash happened at 2:20pm in Sindar area, Kaben location, Tot Division in Elgeyo Marakwet where Evans Kipkosgei, a resident, recounted hearing a bang before the chopper was consumed in fire near Liter Girls Secondary School.

“It crashed barely two kilometres after taking off. We rushed to the scene and found the chopper up in flames,” Kipkosgei told The Standard.

He added: “The scene was immediately cordoned off by KDF officers stationed in the Kerio Valley as some burnt bodies were removed from the wreckage.”

The CDF and his team of 10 aboard Kenya Air Force Huey Helicopter, had left Nairobi on Thursday morning to visit troops deployed in the North Rift under Operation Maliza Uhalifu, and to inspect ongoing school renovations in the area.

Two survivors

General Ogolla is among those who died on the spot. Others were Brigadier Swale Saidi, Colonel Duncan Keittany, Lieutenant Colonel David Sawe, Major George Benson Magondu, Captain Sora Mohamed, Captain Hillary Litali, Senior Sergeant John Kinyua Mureithi, Sergeant Cliphonce Omondi and Sergeant Rose Nyawira.

The two survivors whose identities were not immediately given, were rescued from the ill-fated chopper and rushed to Endo Mission Hospital before being airlifted to Eldoret.

According to Kipkosgei, there has been a heavy presence of military personnel in the area since Wednesday. “The military has been on a mission along the volatile borders. Yesterday (Wednesday) three KDF choppers were spotted here,” he said.

Other locals who rushed to the accident scene said there was smoke when the ill-fated chopper hit the ground. “It was difficult for the KDF rescue team to pull out a woman who was on board the ill-fated chopper,” said one resident who declined to give his identity.

Residents said Sindar is a banditry hotspot. According to locals, tension was high prior to the accident and one person had been shot dead by suspected cattle rustlers early in the day.

Elgeyo Marakwet County Police Commander Peter Mulinge said tension had been building. A team from The Standard abandoned their mission to the scene after local security agents advised against it.

Apart from monitoring the Maliza Uhalifu Operation, General Ogolla was visiting Chesitet Primary School, Cheptulel Boys High School, Chepoton Primary School, Ksaa Primary School and Sablimoi Primary School, being renovated by the military.

Earlier, the CDF had been briefed on the security situation by a multi-agency team stationed at Chesitet in Baringo County, after which he proceeded to Kainuk Forward Operating Base in Turkana County, where he addressed troops, commending them for their resilience and operational successes.

General Ogolla and his entourage departed from Kainuk to Chesegon, West Pokot County, where he launched the rehabilitation of Cheptulel Boys High School.

“He then departed to Chesegon for the Recruits Training School in Uasin Gishu County, where he was scheduled to inspect construction facilities at the institution. Unfortunately, the aircraft crashed shortly after take-off,” said President Ruto while eulogising General Ogolla as a gallant soldier.

In a televised address to the nation last night, Dr Ruto said Kenya had lost one of her most valiant generals, gallant officers, service men and women.

“The demise of General Ogolla is a painful loss to me, and certainly, the sorrow we all feel about his passing is shared by all the people of Kenya, and especially the KDF fraternity. A distinguished four-star general has fallen in the course of duty, and service to country,” said the Head of State.

Leaders from North Rift expressed sympathies following the afternoon crash. Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Wisley Rotich said General Ogolla was determined to end the banditry menace in Kerio Valley.

He said the fallen military boss was a proponent of socio-economic transformation as a tool to end banditry. He mourned him as a soft-spoken man who meant his word.

“Our paths crossed when I was trying to request military intervention in the Kerio Valley banditry situation. When I met him several times in the company of Defence CS Adan Duale he gave me an assurance that this menace will end and promised to act. He accepted to set up two military camps. True to his word, he gave us two military camps,” said the governor.

Uasin Gishu Governor Jonathan Bii said General Ogolla died when KDF was gaining ground in the war against banditry. “We mourn with the families of the fallen KDF soldiers. The military has sacrificed to restore calm in Kerio Valley,” said Bii.

Early in the day, anxiety gripped the nation as news of the plane crash filtered in. Following the crash, President William Ruto who was in Nyeri County at Sagana State Lodge attending the Kenya National Film and Drama Festival State Concert, held a meeting of the National Security Council, according to State House Spokesperson Hussein Mohamed.

“President William Ruto has convened an urgent meeting of the National Security Council at State House Nairobi this evening following a Kenya Defence Forces’ helicopter crash this afternoon in Elgeyo Marakwet County,” said Hussein on his Twitter handle. 

General Ogolla was appointed CDF on April 28, 2023, by President Ruto. The General was sworn into office on April 29, 2023. Before his appointment, Ogolla was the Vice CDF.

General Ogolla who joined the military on April 24, 1984, rose through the ranks becoming a Major General and was made Kenya Air Force Commander on July 15, 2018.

Other key positions he held include Deputy Commander Kenya Air Force, Base Commander Laikipia Air Base, Commanding Officer of Tactical Fighter Wing, Chief Flying Instructor at Kenya Air Force Flying Training School and Operations Desk Officer at Kenya Air Force headquarters among others.

[Reporting by Hudson Gumbihi, Stephen Rutto and Emmanuel Kipchumba]