Kenyan helicopter crash kills security minister

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A helicopter crash at the edge of Nairobi, Kenya has killed six. Amongst the dead is internal security minister George Saitoti, a candidate in next year's presidential election.

Saitoti, 66, played a major role in Kenya opting to send troops into Somalia last year in a bid to combat al-Shabaab. His deputy Joshua Orwa Ojonde is also dead, alongside both pilots and two bodyguards.

The aircraft had not long departed Wilson Airport when it went down into a Kibuku District forest. One witness saw the helicopter "flying very low. It came down suddenly and we heard a loud explosion, and then it burst into flames." Another said it "hovered up there and looked like it was turning back" before crashing. The accident occurred at around 8:30 this morning, local time.

Current President Mwai Kibaki decried "a devastating loss to our country." He called Saitoti "a hardworking and determined public servant who dedicated his time to the service of the Kenyan people". Prime Minister Raila Odinga, speaking at the scene, promised "a thorough probe" into the accident. He described a "great tragedy that has befallen our country".

Saitoti, who personally told the public of the invasion of Somalia two days after sending in thousands of soldiers, had been faced with numerous bombings and kidnaps. He routinely made assurances on national TV in the aftermath of attacks, and recently vowed "terrorists" would not have an impact on government.

With qualifications in accountancy and mathematics acquired in the US, Saitoti was a former Kenyan finance minister. A prominent figure in national politics, he also served as vice president under Daniel Arap Moi in 1989–1997 and 1999–2002.

There is no immediate word on possible causes for the accident. Police have sealed off the scene and begun an investigation.