President Salva Kiir escapes unharmed in a plane crash in Uganda


CLOSE SHAVE: A mechanic examines a damaged tyre of Mr Kiir’s plane yesterday in Gulu. PHOTO BY ACHILLES MPIMA

Gulu - South Sudan President Salva Kiir was yesterday held up in Gulu for nearly seven hours after he survived an incident in which the plane carrying him ruptured a tyre.

The Antonov 74 cargo plane, carrying Mr Kiir and his delegation, was just lifting off the ground at about 9:30 am when it developed a mechanical problem.

Mr Kiir, who is also the first vice president of Sudan, was in Uganda on Tuesday and engaged President Museveni in talks over border tensions between Sudan and Uganda.

On Tuesday evening, Mr Museveni and his counterpart travelled to Moyo for bilateral talks and returned to Gulu 4th Division army barracks where they held a two-hour closed meeting on Tuesday night.

But the flurry of bilateral engagements nearly turned tragic when Mr Kiir and his delegation had to be evacuated amidst panic after his pilot fought hard and avoided a crash after detecting technical problems with the wheels and the hydraulic system.

Gulu Resident District Commissioner Walter Ochora, who later saw off Mr Kiir, ruled out foul play and described the incident as “unsurprising”.

“A snag in air transport is a very common thing, so I was not surprised that this particular aircraft developed a problem with its wheels and the hydraulic system. I have experienced it many times,” Col. Ochora said yesterday.

For some, the incident may have brought back bitter memories of the death of John Garang, the South Sudan leader who was killed after his helicopter crashed in the Imatong Hills.

Col. Garang had been in Uganda for talks with President Museveni at his Rwakitura home. Investigators found no evidence of foul play in the case.

In yesterday’s incident, the pilot managed to steer the plane away from hitting trees, which averted possible harm to the passengers.

Mr Aziku Zata, the deputy northern regional police commander, says the front tyre of the plane ruptured before take-off, causing it to veer dangerously off course.

The Police said no one was injured in the incident and Mr Kiir was evacuated into a waiting car and driven back to Acholi Inn, where he had spent the night. 

Until Mr Kiir finally flew out of Gulu Airfield, a swarm of police, army officers and the Presidential Guard Brigade personnel cordoned off the area. Reporters were not allowed anywhere near the accident scene.