Air search for missing navy sailor from Newcastle

2012-05-26 00:00

TWO air force planes and a helicopter have been searching for the last three days for an SA Navy sailor who fell from a ship off Mozambique.

Able Seaman T.E. Mbuli from Newcastle, deployed on SAS Drakensberg, apparently slipped from a ladder on Wednesday afternoon while the ship was engaged in an operation against a suspected pirate boat.

SANDF spokesperson Brigadier-General Xolani Mabanga confirmed yesterday that the sailor was descending to the deck of the suspect boat when he missed his footing and fell into the sea.

He was wearing full uniform with a heavy jacket, weapon, ammunition, and a lifejacket. It is suspected that the lifejacket’s automatic inflation system failed and the weight of his equipment pulled him under.

A colleague, Lieutenant MM Maake, and two sailors from the Mozambican dhow that was being searched jumped into the sea to try to rescue him, but in vain.

The dhow proved to be a simple fishing boat and was released.

Meanwhile, a helicopter from the Drakensberg, a Dakota stationed on the Mozambique coast as part of anti-piracy patrols, and a C130 plane joined the search in support of dinghies and divers.

Mabanga said the search is continuing uninterrupted. Although the water temperature is 28 degrees, making it possible for Mbuli to survive for up to two days, the water is up to 2 300 metres deep and the wind is blowing at 15 knots.

Mbuli’s father, who lives in Newcastle, was told of the accident on Thursday and had been kept fully informed about the search, Mabanga said.

If he is dead, Mbuli would be the navy’s first fatality since the pirate patrols began last year.

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