THE Ethiopian Defense Ministry today announced that two of its Air Force pilots and their two MI-35 helicopter gunships have defected to Eritrea.
In a face saving message read out today on the state television (EBC), the defense ministry alleges that it was rather a hijack by two disgruntled pilots forcing the flight technicians and co-pilots to fly to Eritrea last Friday while on training.
This is the first time the Ethiopian government acknowledges defection of its air force pilots and military planes. The estimated cost of each helicopter gunship is between 25 and 35 million dollars.
The two missing pilots are identified as Captain Samuel Ghidey and Lieutenant Yililign Mekonen.
On the other hand, Eritrean officials, as always, neither acknowledge nor deny on reports of such nature although the defection to the country by high profile Ethiopian military and air force personnel is on the increase.
The Amsterdam based Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) was the first to confirm the defection of the pilots and missing of two military helicopters from the Ethiopian Air Force inventory.
Ethiopian Air Force is no stranger to such high profile defection. In October of this year alone, Four SU-25 Fighter Jet captains deserted the Air Force and join armed opposition groups that are based in Eritrea.
This year alone, a total of 10 Air Force pilots have abandoned the regime and defects to Eritrea with an identified number of fighter jets and helicopters.