‘Horrific’ scene at crash site

2012-12-07 00:00

A SOMBRE mood hung over the Drakensberg yesterday as the grim process of recovering the bodies of the 11 victims of the air force plane crash got under way.

Lieutenant Jack Haskins, of the Pietermaritzburg K9 Search and Rescue Unit, said the task had been traumatic.

“We all work with the air force closely. It was not nice at all.”

Haskins said it appeared that the 11 had died instantly. “There was no suffering. It seems they died on impact.”

Asked to describe the scene, he said: “The wreckage was mangled, shredded. It was a horrific sight.” He said the remains of the Dakota were spread over an area of around 300 metres, on rocky terrain.

“It’s very remote. There was no way they could have been reached on Wednesday.”

He said working at 10 000 feet was exhausting for the recovery teams on the mountain. “You get tired quicker and you battle to breathe. It’s very strenuous.”

Yesterday, the mountainside, still cold and wet underfoot from inclement weather on Wednesday, was abuzz with helicopters landing and taking off.

Aside from police search and rescue units from Pietermaritzburg, Durban and Port Shepstone, there were Oryx helicopters shuttling military investigators, aviation officials and photographers. A police helicopter brought a pathologist to the wreckage.

The weather had cleared enough for the recovery of the bodies yesterday, but by 2.30 pm clouds were swirling around the area again.

The bodies were brought down in helicopters yesterday and taken to Ladysmith, where they would be held overnight.

The wreckage stayed on the mountainside, clouds forming a pall over the area as the last helicopters left.

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