Warplanes: July 24, 2003


Hopes of finding a Russian pilot alive after an Ugandan MiG-21 fighter crashed on the 15th evaporated on the 20th, when a search team found tiny pieces of human flesh entangled in wreckage scattered at Lake Victoria. The MiG-21 fighter crashed into the lake about 15 km from Entebbe International Airport, shortly after it took off. A fisherman on Lake Victoria saw that the plane was maneuvering at a low altitude right before the incident and was apparently performing prohibited acrobatics. French divers joined the search on the 16th, which was extended to Kenya and Tanzania on the 18th. The Army said there was one Russian pilot aboard but declined to give a name. 

The jet was one of the three Polish second-hand planes overhauled by IAI (Israelis state-owned aircraft industry), but flown by Russian pilots. They were modified in Israel in October 1999, where their armament capacity and firepower were enhanced, avionics replaced and wing span changed. 

So why was a Russian pilot flying an Ugandan MiG, when in November 2000, 15 Ugandan pilots began a year of training in Tel Aviv, Israel to fly the same planes? 
Probably because senior Ugandan pilots refused to fly the secondhand planes because they lack logbooks. When originally delivered in crates, Ugandan pilots and engineers immediately expressed reservations about their mechanical state while local legislators called for investigations into how the planes were procured, suspecting fraud at the highest levels. 

The crash also brings light to a minor mystery, since the Ugandan press reports only account for five of seven ex-Polish MiG-21s. The other two MiG-21s are reportedly still in Israel, since the Ugandan defense ministry has still not paid for their refurbishment. Two more MiG-21s at Entebbe have since developed serious mechanical faults and are due to be flown back to Israel for servicing. In October 2002, The Monitor newspaper reported that an Ugandan plane had been shot down by LRA rebels in Northern Uganda and the journalist was charged with filing a false report. 

In 1999, Uganda purchased six MiG-21bis and a single MiG-21UM from Poland for $1.5 million. The deal was believed to have been brokered through retired Israeli Army Colonel Amos Gorran, when Uganda was deeply involved in Africa's first "World War" in the Congo. The complete $25 million IAI upgrade deal fell through almost immediately, since the Ugandans didn't have the funds at that time.

Rwanda and RCD rebels were also considering fighter purchases at the time, while Russian pilots had allegedly taken part in Zimbabwe's attacks on enemy lines in the Congo during the peak fighting in 2000. However, those pilots and technicians were recalled to Russia in June 2001, after Zimbabwe failed to keep up payments on its $35 million debt from the purchase of six HIND Mi-24 gunships. Congo President Joseph Kabila had promised to fund the Hinds' purchase package for the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ), but the money was squandered by corrupt AFZ. - Adam Geibel


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