Entebbe runway chaos for Cyril Ramaphosa’s jet

2015-03-22 15:00

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

A VIP flight crew ferrying Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to Uganda had a near miss when they landed on the wrong runway at Entebbe airport – after mixing up their approach.

Ramaphosa was blissfully unaware of the potentially life-threatening situation.

Instead of the prescribed runway, the jet landed on one used by Uganda’s fighter planes to take off. Fortunately, there were no planes taking off on the night in question, otherwise the outcome could have been disastrous, City Press’ sister paper, Rapport, was told.

The incident was kept under wraps despite a complaint by the Ugandan aviation authority to its South African counterpart – presumably due to the implications it would have on the careers of the commander of the flight and his co-pilot.

Despite this whopper, the same commander – who holds the rank of major – will soon take control of Inkwazi, the presidential jet.

SA Air Force chief Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang this week strongly denied they had covered up the incident.

“There is an overview discussion after every flight and corrective steps are taken, should it be necessary. I have complete faith in my flight crews and everyone involved in the enforcement of flight safety in the air force. Flight safety is not negotiable,” he noted.

Uganda’s aviation authority, which is said to be on high alert to all suspicious and wrongly executed landings following a hijacking drama at Entebbe airport in 1976, reported the incident to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on October 29 last year.

The CAA, however, has no jurisdiction over military flights, according to its spokesperson, Phindiwe Gwebu. She directed City Press to the department of transport, which did not respond to either written or telephonic enquiries.

On the night in question, Ramaphosa was en route from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, to Uganda to meet Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni to discuss the peace process in South Sudan.

Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Ronnie Mamoepa, who was on the flight with the deputy president, said they were not aware of the near miss.

“The pilots never discuss details of a flight with him. This is an issue that should be handled by the air force,” he said.

According to experts, the commander of the jet experienced a lack of situational awareness and made an autonomous decision instead of following the instrument panel. He landed on the first runway he could see, even though the on-board computer would have indicated it was the wrong one.

Johan Steyl, a former captain with 22?000 flight hours to his name, said it was “worrying”, as the final approach at Entebbe was “simple”. He said a mix-up of this kind usually occurred when an airport did not have advanced radar coverage.

“A pilot then has to know how to land, literally from the instructions in the Jeppesen flight manual. At the same time, they have to talk to controllers in the tower at the airport and keep their heads together to follow their instructions on the basis of the manual and instrument panel.

“You have to know exactly which aircraft are above and below your plane and also whether there are planes getting ready for takeoff. Especially in Africa, situational awareness is of critical importance, because radar coverage is rare.

“The final approach at Entebbe is simple, and it’s therefore worrying that the crew became confused,” he explained.

Steyl added that this kind of slip-up by a pilot was usually taken seriously, because similar mistakes had caused catastrophic tragedies worldwide.

“There have been incidents under similar circumstances where planes have landed on runways under construction or in the path of another one taking off, causing massive casualties.”

From what City Press has gathered, the commander concerned was “fairly” experienced.

The co-pilot only recently qualified to fly a Falcon 900 and had about 400 flight hours to his name.

It’s not the first time a South African deputy president has been involved in a flight drama. Previous deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe’s plane had to make an emergency landing at Gbadolite in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to a lack of fuel. Gbadolite had been pitch-black and deserted.

Another plane had to fetch Motlanthe the following day.


Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.