Search for missing planes on hold

2011-08-15 18:05

Polokwane - The search for two light aircraft that went missing in George's Valley near Tzaneen were put on hold as night began to fall on Monday, Limpopo police said.

"It's becoming dark, so search teams are returning and we will resume tomorrow," Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said.

A search and rescue team was hiking to an area where a Maake community leader said he saw two light aircraft go down.

"As soon as we got the information from the man we asked the defence force to use their helicopter to go to the village," he said.

"The helicopter couldn't get through because of the weather and so we dispatched a team of rescue personnel and police who are on the ground now."

The route was about two hours long and was not accessible by air.

Mulaudzi said the team would set up a base camp where they were and would continue hiking on Tuesday morning.

The Albatross planes, carrying six people each, were presumed to have crashed in the George's Valley area, between Polokwane and Tzaneen.

They took off from a landing strip in Tarentaal, a small farming community in Tzaneen, on Sunday and were headed to Rand Airport in Germiston. The planes were returning to Gauteng after an air show in Tzaneen.

Live in hope

African Pilot magazine editor Athol Franz's fiancée was one of the passengers on board one of two light aircraft.

"I am devastated that there is a possibility that the two Albatrosses either collided in the turbulent air... or that they flew into the mountains..." Franz wrote in a newsletter on Monday.

"I don't know what more to say, but live in hope that the rescue teams will find survivors tomorrow."

He said his life, and that of many others, was "shattered" by the news.

Franz had also attended the air show in Tzaneen but had left on a different plane to his fiancée. He said he was concerned about getting back to Johannesburg on Sunday morning when he saw the overcast weather.

Another passenger was a Durban air show co-ordinator, the organisers said.

They would not name the person "out of respect to the families".

"This has really hit the aviation family hard and we pray that they are safe somewhere," spokesperson Ray de Vries said in a statement.

A number of people on board were involved in the recent air show held at Virginia.

Conditions difficult

Search and Rescue SA said the conditions were very difficult.

"The clouds are still low, we can't get there. We are searching low level now," said spokesperson Johnny Smith.

Overnight foot patrols had searched in Tzaneen for the two planes. The air search was suspended on Monday morning because of bad weather, but ground searching had continued, Smith said.

An SANDF helicopter, with a rescue team of 10, had also been searching the area.

It was the only aircraft that was equipped to fly through the poor weather.

The search on Monday afternoon had moved south of Wolkberg, which is part of the Drakensberg mountain range, about 80km from Tzaneen.

Read more on:    sandf  |  johannesburg  |  polokwane  |  air crashes

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