THE Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) today reports that it has established its first contact with the three Ethiopian Air Force pilots who defected last month to a third country [Eritrea] with their MI-35 Helicopter gunship.
Captain Samuel Ghidey, Lieutenant Yililign Mekonen and technician Tsegabrhan Ghidey told ESAT that they are safe and in good condition since they arrived in the country.
Responding to questions on how they managed to escape without leaving a trace, the pilots said, “We had a plan to defect together for a long time … and have been waiting for the chance to get assigned together in one of the routine test flights”, said the Captains from their undisclosed location.
“As soon as we got the chance, we readily executed the plan … at times by flying the helicopter up to 10 meters above the ground to evade radar detection and flew until we ran out of fuel,” surmised the three former Ethiopian Air Force pilots explaining how they finally reached to safety.
When asked what prompted them to defect in the first place, the pilots replied “it’s because they couldn’t put up any longer with the rampant nepotism, bad administration and toxic ethnic policies that prevails within the air force .
“Most Air Force members are extremely disillusioned with the regime and its disastrous polices. They are ready to defect anytime as opportunity permits,” the pilots added, describing the rock bottom level of desperation and low morale that exists in the present Ethiopian Air Force institution.
The three ex-Air Force pilots pledged that they are now ready to take part in the ongoing struggle to bring change in Ethiopia. They also promised to conduct an interview with ESAT from their location in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, the two ESAT staff members, Mesay Mekonen and Fasil Yenealem, have returned to their respective offices in the U.S. and Netherlands from their three -week Eritrea mission.
While in Eritrea, the reporters had documented activities of the various Ethiopian armed opposition groups. They also had the chance to conduct a number of interviews with dozens of former Ethiopian Air Force SU-27, MIG-23 and MI-Helicopter gunship pilots.
ESAT has promised to air the interview anytime soon.
The once superior Ethiopian Air Force is now reduced into a defunct institution suffering from a series of high profile defections, low morale and a number of aircraft crashes in recent times.
Over the last 12 months alone, a total of 16 Ethiopian Air Force pilots (not including technicians) have defected to neighboring countries; with predominantly of them to Eritrea.
The absconding pilots brought with them various multi-million dollar military aircrafts, making their desertion a costly blow to the TPLF regime.