Chopper’s watery grave

2009-05-13 00:00

“I SAW its nose go into the water first and then I saw the tail, which was still in flames, go in after … Then there were just pieces of the chopper floating all over.”

This was how Quin Mlangeni, a resident of the village on the bank of Woodstock Dam near Bergville, where a South African National Defence Force (SANDF) helicopter crashed yesterday morning, described the accident.

Mlangeni was fishing at the dam when he saw three helicopters approaching him from a northward direction. Only minutes later, he said, the helicopter at the back of the pack dropped, landing just a few hundred metres away from him.

“It made a wave about two metres high,” he said. “The first thing I could think of to do was to go on my knees and grab my fishing line out of the water.”

According to a police statement, the crash occurred at around 11.30 am during a training flight. It was occupied by three people and was en route to Dragon’ s Peak flying past the upper Tugela River.

Five hours after the incident, all that had been recovered from the 40 m-deep dam by police and SANDF divers who were called in to assist was a flask, two helmets, a pair of boots (one of which was shredded), a flip-flop and a door of the Agusta A109.

Although the bodies of the occupants (who were suspected to have drowned) were searched for tirelessly by divers and the helicopter search teams, at that point, none were found.

Two members of the SANDF were holding one of the recovered boots against a dent in the recovered door. When asked if they thought that one of the occupants might have caused the dent during the crash, they declined comment.

In a statement released by the ministry yesterday, the newly appointed minister of Defence, Lindiwe Sisulu, expressed regret about the death of the three members of the South African Air Force.

Ministry spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi said although it is known that the helicopter was on its way to the Dragons Peak Park, it was not clear where the aircraft was coming from.

“We are still gathering information,” said Mkhwanazi, “The ministry has made a decision not to release the names, ages and ranks at this stage. It will be released once their next of kin have been informed. ”

He added that a Board of Inquiry has been convened to investigate the cause of the accident.

Meanwhile, Zwangaye Sithole, disaster manager of the Uthukela District Municipality, assured The Witness that emergency services will not rest until the bodies are recovered.

“We have divers from Ladysmith and Pietermaritzburg here,” he said.

Join the conversation! 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. 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 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.