Prominent KZN farmers the victims of fiery plane crash

2012-09-15 00:00

THE three men who died in a fiery plane crash near Cato Ridge on Thursday night were farmers from the Newcastle area. They had been attending the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union’s (Kwanalu) annual congress in Pietermaritzburg just hours before and were returning home.

The Beechcraft Baron plane nosedived into thick bush in a remote valley. Jannie Boshoff, Jannie Kemp and pilot Theuns van Rensburg died at the scene.

It is not known why the plane had veered towards Cato Ridge, but there was speculation that it might have done so to avoid a severe thunderstorm that was developing north of Pietermaritzburg late on Thursday afternoon.

Helena Wessels, daughter of the 62-year-old Jannie Kemp, said the loss of her father was tragic. She said he was the chairperson of the Newcastle Farmers’ Association, a respected man in the community, an elder in the church and vice-chairperson of the Lowveld Hunters’ Association.

“He was always there when we needed him.”

The son of Jannie Boshoff declined to be named and said the family would be going to identify his father’s body today and would issue a statement in conjunction with Kwanalu.

Janet, the wife of cattle farmer and pilot Van Rensburg, said he would have turned 65 on Wednesday.

She described him as a very hard- working and successful farmer.

“He went to Pietermaritzburg for the meeting on Thursday and was supposed to return home last night [Thursday night], but he didn’t.”

They had no children.

Van Rensburg was a member of the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation in KZN.

SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) spokesperson Marié Bray, said the aircraft reportedly crashed at 4 pm after take-off from Pietermaritzburg.

“The aircraft was consumed by a post-impact fire and the pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. The SACAA investigators are on the scene, but their efforts are being hampered by difficult terrain,” Bray said yesterday.

Saziso Bhengu, who lives nearby in kwaMkhizwana, was among the first group of people to reach the scene. They followed the cloud of smoke to reach the site.

“It was very difficult for us to reach the place where the plane had crashed. When we eventually got there, the plane was burning and things were exploding. We were scared. We tried to save them, but couldn’t because of the flames. They were severely burnt and we removed them from the plane,” Bhengu said.

Sthembiso Blose said they had done all they could to help.

“If the plane had crashed closer to our homes maybe we could have done more. But because of the distance and the thick forest it was difficult for us.”

To reach the scene, police and rescue workers had to bundu-bash more than four kilometres up a hill, and down into the valley to the stream where the plane crashed. Only the propeller, engine and some parts of the plane could be identified.

The rest of the aicraft was destroyed in the fire.

Nearby trees were scorched to their highest branches.

The three badly burned bodies were laid out on the ground near the wreckage, until they were airlifted out of the valley by helicopter, along with the propeller and engine, which were taken away to be examined by aircraft experts.

Stunned local people gathered around as police arrived. Some of them volunteered to spend the drizzly, cold night in the bush guarding the bodies with the police to prevent wild animals, like bushpigs, from coming near the scene.

Police spokesperson Captain Thulani Zwane said an inquest docket had been opened. “Their identities have not yet been [officially] established since they were burnt beyond recognition,” he said.

He said the cause of the crash was not known at this stage.

• mlondi.radebe@witness.co.za

---

Condolences: KZN Farmers ‘absolutely gutted’

The KZN organised business and agricultural fraternity expressed shock and dismay yesterday following the death of three respected local farmers.

The former president and outgoing vice-president of KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu), Robin Barnsley, told Weekend Witness that the farmers were on their way home from the Kwanalu annual congress held in Pietermaritzburg on Thursday.

“I was outside having a joke and chatting with them after the congress had ended. I was absolutely gutted when I heard the news. All three had been kind to me in my time as president and vice-president of Kwanalu. They were all good men. They were all good, solid participants and contributors to the issues that needed the attention of our members. They were senior members of Kwanalu … and delegates from the Newcastle/Amajuba area,” said Barnsley.

The president of the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Johnny Clark, told Weekend Witness that the men were senior members of the local farming community and that they were very involved in farming organisations in the area.

“It was with great sadness that we heard of this. They played a very active and critical role in addressing the challenges that faced the agricultural sector. They all sat on forums in the chamber movement. We wish the families well in dealing with the loss,” said Clark.

AgriSA president Johannes Möller expressed shock at the death of the three men.

“I spoke to these members during the congress … their death is not only a loss for Kwanalu, but also for AgriSA. They had served their communities in various areas and also made a contribution to our organisation.

“At this point it is not clear what caused the accident, but Agri SA trusts that a thorough investigation would be conducted to determine the cause.

“We regret the passing of Jannie Boshoff, Jannie Kemp and Theuns van Rensburg and extend to their loved ones our sincere condolences and prayers,” said Möller.

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