The Kenyan air force has suffered another setback in its helicopter fleet, as a Mil Mi-171E multirole helicopter crashed in Buna, Wajir County, on Monday.
According to a statement from the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), the helicopter was on relief supply duties in Moyale, Marsabit County and Buna in Wajir County, when it crashed at around 1700hrs. All crew and passengers onboard disembarked safely. The cause of the crash will be established after investigations.
The Mi-171E is the export version of the Mi-8AMT, a Russian-made helicopter that can operate in high temperatures of up to 50 Celsius. The ‘E’ variant is fitted with VK-2500-03 engines and can perform various missions, such as troop transport, cargo delivery, medical evacuation and firefighting.
The Kenyan air force acquired three Mi-171E helicopters in 2010, as part of a deal worth $74 million, to boost its capabilities in the fight against terrorism and insurgency in the region. The helicopters were assigned to the 53 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, based at FOB Nyeri, 151 kilometers from Nairobi.
However, this is not the first time that the Kenyan air force has lost a Mi-171E helicopter. In 2019, a Mi-171E training helicopter crash landed at Ol Tepesi in Kajiado’s Ngong area, killing two trainees and injuring several others. The helicopter was conducting a routine training flight when it experienced a technical failure.
The crash of the Mi-171E on Monday leaves the Kenyan air force with only one surviving helicopter of this type, which could affect its operational readiness and effectiveness. The Kenyan air force has been facing challenges in maintaining and modernising its ageing helicopter fleet, which consists of various models, such as Pumas, an Mi-17, Huey UH-1Hs, AS550C3 Fennecs, AW139s, AS350 Fennecs, MD530Fs and C-27J Spartans.
Several Kenyan helicopters have been lost since the later part of the decade, due to accidents, mechanical faults or enemy fire. In 2018, a UH-1H-II helicopter crashed and was written off. In 2020, a Hughes MD50E helicopter crashed and killed both pilots. In 2021, a MD530F helicopter was shot down by al-Shabaab militants in Somalia, killing all six onboard.
The Kenyan air force has been playing a vital role in supporting the security operations in the country and the region, especially in the fight against al-Shabaab, a terrorist group that has been waging a violent campaign in Somalia and Kenya. The Kenyan air force has also been involved in humanitarian missions, such as delivering relief supplies to areas affected by drought, floods and conflict.
The loss of another helicopter in the crash on Monday is a reminder of the risks and challenges that the Kenyan air force faces in fulfilling its mandate, and the need for more investment and support to enhance its capabilities and safety.