wreckage from the plane

wreckage from the Ilyushin 76, photo/Reuters

On March 9 an Ilyushin cargo plane, S9-SAB, Soviet era plane, owned by Aerolift, known gunrunners, and chartered by Dyncorp, one of the largest suppliers of mercenaries, burst into flames and crashed into Lake Victoria. Supposedly it was carrying tents and water purification equipment to the AMISOM, African Union Mission in Somalia, soldiers in Somalia. Reports say 11 people on the plane were killed. Dyncorp is currently under contract with the US Department of State.

From Uganda’s New Vision, a description of the crash:
Entebbe place crash kills eleven

The accident occurred moments after the Ilyushin cargo plane, S9-SAB, operated by Aerolift left the airport. Dynacorp, an American company, had chartered the plane.

The aircraft plunged into the water at a place referred to as Magombe, loosely translated as graveyard, owing to the disasters that have occurred there in the past. Several boats have reportedly capsized in the area, fishermen disclosed.

Magombe, according to a statement from the Civil Aviation Authority, is about 5.5 nautical miles (9.9km) south of the airport. The plane burst into flames before it hurtled into the water and got submerged, witnesses said.

“It left the airport after a Kenya Airways flight but it made an awkward sound. It caught fire soon after it got off the ground,” an officer at Kigungu Police post said.

A policeman, Gerald Ssesanga, who resides near the airport, said he saw the blaze but thought it was a fire lit along the shore. Juma Kalanzi, a fisherman, also saw the fire but initially thought it was on the nearby Nsaze Island.

“I realised it was a plane when the fire started spreading on the lake,” he stated.

So big was the blaze that it caught the attention of the early risers along the shores of the lake.

A search and rescue team comprising the army, the Police and CAA staff rescued two tired fishermen, Karim Mubajje, and another only identified as Deo. Mubajje and Deo narrowly survived after their boat capsized as the blazing plane plunged into the lake where they were fishing.

Mubajje recounted hearing a loud explosion as they drew nets out of the water. “In a few seconds, the plane spun several times and tumbled into the water, capsizing our boat,” he said.

They held onto the wooden pieces of their boat for four hours until they were rescued.

Responding to a question on whether the crash was the work of terrorists, Masiko remarked: “I am not ruling out anything and I am not including anything. Don’t speculate. Let us wait for the investigations.”

On the plane’s airworthiness, the minister disclosed that it was okay, adding that it flew to Somalia 20 times in February.

There are only 28 days in February, that means this plane, chartered by Dyncorp, was making almost daily flights to Somalia during February. What was it carrying? Who was paying for the cargo? Was it in violation of the UN Arms Embargo? And was it only flying these trips in February, did it start before that? Does Dyncorp continue to charter Soviet era Aerolift planes registered in Sao Tome for flights back and forth to Somalia?

Further description of the crash from Uganda’s Daily Monitor:

Mr Yusuf Buga, a fisherman, said he heard an explosion first and then about 10 miles away from where he was winding up his fishing, a fireball fell from the sky into the lake.
“It was not a plane that plunged into the water; by the time it hit the water, it was a fireball that continued to burn on the water surface for about an hour,” Mr Buga says.
Mr Charles Kiwanuka, 19, seems to have seen even more action than Mr Buga.

“By 5:00am, we were all packing up because we fish at night. From our boat we heard an explosion and, on looking up, saw a fireball headed for the waters where two other fishermen dozed on their canoe. The aircraft exploded from the air before falling into the lake as a fire.”

The two fishermen Mr Kiwanuka refers to, who survived by holding onto a piece of crap from the shattered aircraft …

Also from Uganda’s Daily Monitor: Crashed plane ‘not inspected’

The Illyushin-76 cargo plane carrying 16 tonnes of supplies including tents and water-purification equipment for Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers in Somalia plunged into Lake Victoria soon after take-off from Entebbe Airport.

The aircraft was on a support flight carrying water purifiers and other equipment for ugandan peacekeeping troops in Somalia.” It seems unlikely that the plane was carrying 16 tonnes of just tents and water purification equipment for the 3700 AMISOM troops. So what else was on the plane? Additionally, three high ranking Burundian officers were in the plane, including a brigadier general and a colonel.

SA plane crash victim identified

Duncan Rykaart, a former special forces operator and colonel, was one of 11 people aboard a Ilyushin 76 cargo plane that crashed into Lake Victoria on Monday.

He had been working for Bancroft Global Development, an American company specialising in research on explosive devices and landmines, since January. The company advises the African Union’s peacekeeping troops in Somalia.

Regarding Mr. Rykaart’s history:

November 2001: Guns for hire again

A born-again Executive Outcomes operation is at the centre of allegations of a military contract between ex-South African Defence Force soldiers and the Sudanese army.

We hear South African security has established a link between a local company known as NFD and the Sudan contract.

NFD’s directors include Duncan Rykaart (ex- colonel in the SA Defence Force’s Five Recce Brigade)

NFD Operations Manager Rykaart denies any knowledge of the Sudan contract, though SA military sources pinpoint him as taking the lead role in the negotiations with Khartoum. … Rykaart insists his company has no foreign security contracts currently, although the NFD website boasts a client base in Egypt, Congo-Brazzaville, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Angola and Bulgaria.

As b real points out:

all of the training & arming of somalis on all sides continues in violation of the arms embargo. that’s part of what makes the 20 flights into mogadishu so interesting. and the u.s. sponsored training by the ugandans, rwandans, and kenyans (and possibly even south africans)

He adds some relevant background material on Dyncorp, and its contract with the Department of State:

US hires military contractor to support peacekeeping mission in Somalia

NAIROBI, Kenya: The United States has hired a major military contractor to provide equipment and logistical support to the peacekeeping mission in Somalia, bringing U.S. dependence on private military companies in several hot spots to a particularly troubled corner of Africa. The DynCorp International contract is the latest in a series of deals that allow the United States to play a greater role in African military matters, without having to use uniformed troops…

The company is on standby to provide services anywhere on the continent to include “support of peacekeeping missions by training specific countries’ armed services to enhance their ability to deploy through air and sea, provide logistics supports to mission and work with regional organization to prevent and resolve conflict,” according to bid documents.

If everything was legit, why was Dyncorp using an uninspected Aerolift plane? The old Russian planes were supposed to be banned in Uganda in 2005, plus, the crew of the plane may have been drunk:

Queries raised over ‘condemned’ aircraft that plunged into Lake Victoria

..as efforts to recover the wreckage and the bodies continued into the weekend, reports were emerging that the aircraft should not have been in Ugandan airspace in the first place because the Civil Aviation Authority had banned aged Russian-type planes from operating in the country in 2005.

Even more intriguing were reports from patrons of a popular pub in Entebbe that the crew drank well into the night before their 5.14 am departure on the flight.

Conceding that the authority suffers from political interference that limits its capacity for safety oversight over ad-hoc operators, highly placed sources in the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority told The EastAfrican that the flying coffins were back in force, operating on the authority of powerful political figures who exert considerable pressure on the regulator.

So far AFRICOM, the US Africa Command, has not been named in this story. But it officially enters the picture in the efforts to recover the wreckage from the lake:

US Army to help Uganda in plane crash recovery
The US government is scheduled to assist the government of Uganda in conducting search and recovery operations of human remains and the flight data recorder from the wreckage of an Ilyushin 76 aircraft that crashed in Lake Victoria recently.

Service members from Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, a US body based in Djibouti are expected in Uganda to help in the rescue mission, according to a press statement from the body.

This follows a request by the U.S. Embassy in Uganda and the government of Uganda for U.S. military assistance in recovery operations at the crash site. …

AFRICOM and the Ugandans work on recovering the wreckage:

Ugandan, US divers recover plane wreckage

The Americans have been tasked to retrieve the remains of the dead, recover the black box and advise the investigation team based at the Civil Aviation Authority offices in Entebbe. “US service members are in the Horn of Africa to build relationships with partner nations,” Anthony Kurta, a US commander, said.

“We have deployed a team to support Ugandans in the operations. We work beside Ugandan military forces on a regular basis as part of our efforts to strengthen their own security capacity,” he added.

Two Russians; a captain and the co-pilot, two Ukrainians, three senior Burundian army officers, two Ugandans, a South African and an Indian died in the March 9 incident.

The remains of the Ugandans, Burundians and Ukrainians have been buried.

And the nature of the plane’s cargo, and the recovery efforts take an even odder turn in this press release, with explanatory comments from b real:

From a press release by CJTF-HOA’s public affairs outfit: U.S. Horn of Africa Personnel Dive for Aircraft Wreckage in Lake Victoria

U.S. Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa have located the wreckage of an Ilyshin II 76 aircraft that crashed in Lake Victoria and are conducting diving operations to retrieve information.

The divers have found the aircraft tail.

“It was very tall, and it was in the flight path, so we splashed divers on it and there it was,” said Lieutenant Junior Grade Scott Bryant, the on-scene diving operations officer. “We also located portions of the fuselage, that are not enclosed, they are cracked open like an egg.”

According to Bryant, divers have also located both wings, landing gear with four tires and what they believe to be one of the engines. However they believe the other engines are sunk and will confirm over the next few days.

“Most of the heavy stuff is underneath the silt. We found parts of the tail that are sunk and the divers had to dig five feet under,” he said. “This is very difficult diving and potentially very hazardous. Probably some of the most difficult I’ve seen in 19 years of service. There is no visibility, especially once you touch the bottom; a powder, like talcum powder, floats up everywhere and you can’t see at all. Because of the wreckage, there are very sharp medal objects pointing everywhere and we have fishing nets to deal with.”

Lake Victoria is the second largest fresh water lake in the world. The wreckage is 80 feet under water, buried in approximately 15 feet of silt and 6.8 miles from the closest pier.

CJTF-HOA brought personnel and equipment to Uganda from Bahrain, Italy and Djibouti. Equipment includes sonar systems, self contained under water breathing apparatus (SCUBA) gear, surface-supply diving equipment, a hyperbaric chamber for emergencies and three boats. CJTF-HOA is part of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).

As b real points out:

of course the pr piece omits any mention of dyncorp or its contract w/ DoS so that it can portray (“shape” is the popular term these days) the operation as assisting the ugandan govt.

that’s alot of expensive equipment to bring in for the recovery operations. fortunately for them nobody really is asking any important questions

Note the captions of the following pictures of the recovery operation taken from the CJTF-HOA photo gallery:

ENTEBBE, Uganda - Lieutenant (junior grade) Scott Bryant, assigned to U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 2 (EODMU 2), directs a team member to approach a safety boat provided by the Ugandan Civil Aviation Authority on Africa's Lake Victoria March 27, 2009. Bryant is the diving officer-in-charge of a search and recovery operation being conducted by the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) and the government of Uganda. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Cory Drake)

ENTEBBE, Uganda - Lieutenant (junior grade) Scott Bryant, assigned to U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 2 (EODMU 2), directs a team member to approach a safety boat provided by the Ugandan Civil Aviation Authority on Africa's Lake Victoria March 27, 2009. Bryant is the diving officer-in-charge of a search and recovery operation being conducted by the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) and the government of Uganda. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Cory Drake

ENTEBBE, Uganda - Petty Officer 2nd Class John Handrahan, assigned to the forward-deployed U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11 (EODMU 11), dives into Lake Victoria in Africa March 28, 2009 as part of a search and recovery operation being conducted by the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) and the government of Uganda. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Cory Drake)

ENTEBBE, Uganda - Petty Officer 2nd Class John Handrahan, assigned to the forward-deployed U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11 (EODMU 11), dives into Lake Victoria in Africa March 28, 2009 as part of a search and recovery operation being conducted by the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) and the government of Uganda. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Cory Drake

ENTEBBE, Uganda - Sailors assigned to U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 8, EODMU 2 and Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 reflect upon a day of completed dives into Africa's Lake Victoria April 1, 2009. The units are diving as part of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) mission to locate the wreckage of an Ilyushin 76 cargo aircraft which crashed into the lake on March 9 and retrieve information for the Ugandan government's investigation. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Dustin Q. Diaz)

ENTEBBE, Uganda - Sailors assigned to U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 8, EODMU 2 and Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 reflect upon a day of completed dives into Africa's Lake Victoria April 1, 2009. The units are diving as part of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) mission to locate the wreckage of an Ilyushin 76 cargo aircraft which crashed into the lake on March 9 and retrieve information for the Ugandan government's investigation. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Dustin Q. Diaz)

Recovery operations include U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 8, EODMU 2 and Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2, and U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11 (EODMU 11). Again from b real:

at least 3 EODMU units on the scene?

according to the website global security, this represents both “Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 1″ (EODGRU 1) and “Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group Two” (EODGRU 2)

on the former,

The mission of EODGRU 1 is to provide the Pacific Fleet with the capability to detect, identify, render safe, recover, evaluate, and dispose of explosive ordnance which has been fired, dropped, launched, projected, or placed in such a manner as to constitute a hazard to operations, installations, personnel, or material.

on the latter,

EODGRU 2’s mission is to provide combat ready EOD and Diving & Salvage forces to the Fleet per unit ROC & POEs. Eliminate ordnance hazards that jeopardize operations conducted in support of the national military strategy. Clear harbors and approaches of obstacles. Salvage/recover ships, aircraft and weapons lost or damaged in peacetime or combat.

nothing in either of those missions about recovering tents & water purifiers

which is more likely –

1. the EODMU’s are looking for evidence of sabotage
2. the EODMU’s are looking to recover ordnance

After this there is not much more information. At least two accounts say the black box was found, although there was one denial that it was found.  No statements about any information from the black box have been forthcoming.

no mention of dyncorp, dos, dyncorp, amisom, africom, the eodmu teams, ordnance disposal, etc…

okay, hold on a moment.

“The wreckage is still 80ft under the water and 15ft under silt in Lake Victoria that cannot enable the divers get the black box out of the wreckage,” The Air Force spokesperson Captain Tabaro Kiconco has said.

yet

Capt. Kiconco said that the divers had successfully mapped the area w[h]ere the wreckage was found and also retrieved the cracked open portion of the fuselage, plane wings, one of the engines and landing gear with four tyres.

what do you wanna bet that’s not all those divers from the different explosive ordnance disposal mobile units retrieved from the lake?

And that is where the story ends, or at least where the telling of the story ends. There are no serious answers on what caused the crash, or what the plane was carrying that required explosive ordnance disposal units to recover. There are no further questions asked or explanations given. There is no clue as to what those multiple Aerolift flights back and forth to Somalia were (perhaps are) carrying. In fact, no one has posed serious questions to the parties involved, and they are not volunteering any answers.

So all we get is: move along there, nothing to see here, move along, just keep moving. Everything is under control. And it certainly looks like everyone concerned is under very heavy manners. Unless someone with some clout asks some questions, and that does not seem likely, we are unlikely to learn AFRICOM’s Lake Victoria secret.

Note:
I am indebted to the extensive research on this incident by b real, and posted in the comment threads on these articles:
A Carrier Group to Attack Somalia
Somalia Thread
Africa Comments

b real continues these topics and more at his newer location
africa comments blog. 
If you want to follow events in Somalia and East Africa, I suggest you visit.

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