Police pilot had elevated booze level, flew into cloud ahead of crash

2013-11-05 00:00

eMALAHLENI (Witbank) — The office of the Director of Public Prosecutions must now decide whether anyone should be prosecuted for statutory offences after a helicopter crash in 2010, which caused the deaths of seven police officers.

Magistrate Ernst du Plooy yesterday said he and Rennie van Zyl, a specialist assessor, could not rule whether the deaths were caused by negligent actions by the pilot, the late Captain Wikus Zaayman, or any of his passengers.

“With no clear information on what happened inside the cabin, which could have led to a loss of control, it is not possible to rule on the cause of the crash.”

The law governing inquests determines that the Director of Public Prosecutions can decide to re-open a case and obtain supporting statements.

Du Plooy said the two police helicopters, piloted by Colonel Willie Norval and Zaayman, had flown through thick mist and over a cloud bank that was estimated to be between 300 and 500 feet high. This is contrary to police regulations. The two helicopters had left Wonderboom airport on July 23, 2010 to transport officers to eMalahleni for an armed robbery investigation.

Over Bronkhorstspruit, the two helicopters flew into a high mist cloud. Both pilots decided to ascend and flew at 6 000 feet above sea level to eMalahleni.

Earlier, the court heard how Norval had first tried to descend when he saw a gap in the clouds. While he was approaching to land, the thick mist closed in again and he had to make use of his instruments for a few seconds.

As Zaayman experienced the same conditions, his helicopter hit with the ground. Norval had earlier testified that Zaayman was not yet qualified to fly using instruments only.

Du Plooy said both pilots had left Pretoria without checking the weather over eMalahleni.

Du Plooy said while Zaayman had a blood alcohol level of 0,08 g per 100 ml, four times the limit of 0,02 g per 100 ml for pilots, the manner in which Zaayman had flown to eMalahleni was normal and not like someone who was drunk. It would therefore be unfair to say he was drunk. “The possibility that his reactions, his judgment and his concentration levels were adversely affected by his blood alcohol level can, however, not be excluded.”

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