Dakota can’t fly in bad weather

2012-12-07 00:00

THE SAAF Dakota that crashed in the Drakensberg on Wednesday was not capable of flying in very bad weather conditions, a civilian Dakota pilot said yesterday.

Chris Briers, a pilot with extensive experience in Dakotas for Avlease, said: “Dakotas are not pressurised, so they can’t fly as high as planes that are. They fly at a limit of about 12 000 feet, and the Drakensberg is 11 000 feet.

“That leaves very little room for error. Something must have gone horribly wrong. The fact is, they should never have been there in those conditions.”

Dakotas have no equipment to de-ice the wings. Ice formed during a thunderstorm can make the plane heavy and unresponsive.

This led to questions about why the plane had to fly at all on Wednesday. Colleagues said the pilots were safety conscious and would not have taken a chance unless there was very good reason.

Others said the squadron had been under increasing pressure in the last few months to make more flights in planes giving more and more trouble.

It was initially reported that former president Nelson Mandela’s medical team could have been on board. Yesterday it emerged that they were not, but a consignment of medicine that had to reach him on time might have been.

Mandela family members contacted by The Witness said they were not aware of the medicines, and one of his daughters said it was unlikely to be officially confirmed for security reasons.

Sello Hatang, a spokesperson for the Nelson Mandela Foundation, said: “We wouldn’t know if there was medication on board. We wouldn’t know what type of medication is provided for Madiba or how often the military makes the delivery …”

Besides the six-man crew, five army security guards were on board to do a two-week shift guarding another Dakota that had made a hard landing in Mthatha last week.

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