Only body parts found

2011-02-10 00:00

PLETTENBERG BAY — Mystery surrounds the aircraft accident that claimed the lives of seven businessmen in dense sea mist at Robberg near Plettenberg Bay yesterday.

Italtile CEO Gianpaolo Ravazzotti, one of South Africa’s leading tile and bathroom product merchants, died in the crash. There were several questions as a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) team began its investigation into the cause of the accident.

Rescue workers were on the scene all day yesterday, salvaging pieces of wreckage and bringing white plastic bags containing body parts ashore in boats.

The Pilatus aircraft disappeared from radar screens at about 4.33 pm on Tuesday after having reportedly taken off from Queenstown sometime after 3 pm. It was scheduled to land at Plettenberg Bay airport shortly after 4 pm.

It is not known whether the aircraft veered from its original flight plan after unsuccessfully trying to land in thick mist at Plettenberg Bay.

The aircraft is reported to have flown over the interior from Queenstown, deviating from its intended course at Robberg on its way to the airport. According to the CAA, the Pilatus PC12 aircraft is capable of carrying up to nine people.

Corlani de Villiers, who lives near Robberg, told a radio station that she saw the aircraft shortly before it crashed.

It was apparently flying low in front of Robberg. She said the aircraft sounded as if it was struggling to climb. By last night no other eyewitnesses had come forward.

There was a sense of dismay at Central Beach yesterday when it became known that no one had survived the accident.

“It is not a good time for us,” said relatives of Simon Hirschberg, one of the businessmen who lost his life.

Parts of the beach were cordoned off, but bystanders crowded around nonetheless. Hirschberg’s sister, Nicky, who is well known in Plettenberg Bay, was one of the bystanders.

She did not want to speak to the media at the scene, saying photographers “should not be so inquisitive”. Most of the wreckage was lying about two kilometres offshore, south of the Robberg nature reserve, according to Ray Farnham, station commander of the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI).

 

Police members, a police helicopter and members of the NRSI in boats took part in the search.

The police initially announced that eight people’s bodies had been found, but later withdrew the statement.

Only human body parts — not whole bodies — were found and taken to the mortuary in George.

It is reported that family members have already visited the mortuary. CAA acting director Zakhele Thwala conveyed his sympathy to the relatives of those who died.

He said active steps will be taken to finalise the investigation as soon as possible.

The cause of the accident is unknown and can be made known only after the investigation has been completed.

Transport minister S’bu Ndbele also expressed his sympathy with the family and friends of the deceased.

Alistair Berriman, chief flying instructor at a well-known flying school in the southern Cape, said the Pilatus PC12 is one of the safest aircraft around.

“It is reliable and is equipped with the latest technology. It is manufactured in Switzerland.”

Berriman says the aircraft can easily fly from Johannesburg to George, for example. The distance will vary depending on the number of passengers and weight of luggage carried.

“It is a very safe aircraft. I have a few friends who have flown it and they think it’s the best. The Red Cross also sometimes uses it for transporting patients.

“It is a very popular aircraft, because it is safe and relatively easy to fly.”

He would not comment on this particular accident, because of the inquiry that is underway.

He did say, however, that this part of the coast is not dangerous to fly along.

“The weather can be a factor, but given the technology in this aircraft, it actually isn’t dangerous to fly it along this part of the coast.”

THE VICTIMS:

From Italtile —

CEO Gianpaolo Ravazzotti;

Gia Celori;

Aletsia Krause and

Marilize Compion.

Sava Di Bella of Prima Bella Bathroom Accessories,

Simon Hirschberg of Grainwave and

Jody Jansen van Rensburg of CTM Alberton.

The pilots — Bronwyn Parsons and Alison van Staden

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