SANDF confirms no medics on board Dakota

2012-12-06 00:00

THE South African Defence Force (SANDF) has confirmed that no medical personnel were on board the C47TP-Dakota flight that crashed in the Drakensberg yesterday.

There were no survivors and the names of the deceased have not been released but they are believed to have been flight crew and  security personnel.

An air force Dakota with eleven people on board went missing over the Giant’s Castle area near Estcourt yesterday morning.

The assumption is that the plane, a C-47, either crashed or had to do an emergency landing in the mountainous area of the Drakensberg. The plane has no flight recorder or emergency beacons on board.

The last communication received from the pilot was at about 9 am yesterday morning when the crew spoke to the air traffic control tower in Johannesburg.

The crew told the tower they were flying on instruments only as the weather and visibility were extraordinarily poor.

Shortly after that the plane disappeared from the radar screen.

Control at the Mthatha airport in the Eastern Cape — where the plane was due to land — assumed the flight had been cancelled when no plane arrived.

Apart from the two pilots, a navigator and two loading masters, a medical team of six people were also reportedly on board. They were on their way to conduct a routine medical checkup on Madiba at his house in Qunu.

Bad weather, thunderstorms and low clouds stopped an aerial search for the plane. Search parties started looking for wreckage at first light this morning.

The Defence Ministry last night did not want to comment on the incident, but spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini confirmed that the plane was missing.

“Thus far the details are still very scanty. We will be able to give more comment once detail becomes clearer,” said Dlamini.

The two loading masters were stationed at 44 Squadron at the Waterkloof air force base. The air force yesterday informed all close family members of the crew and passengers that the plane was missing.

This was the second incident in the past month in which a Dakota of 35 Squadron (Cape Town) was involved.

The plane departed for Mthata from Waterkloof at about 8 am yesterday. It had fuel for three hours on board. Just after 12 pm, when control could not make contact with the crew and Mthatha airport confirmed that no plane had arrived, it was confirmed missing. At this time the weather was very bad, with several thunderstorms between Harrismith and Ladysmith.

The air force yesterday had several helicopters on standby to search for the plane, but they were grounded by the weather.

An Oryx helicopter from the Bloem­spruit air force base in Bloemfontein was sent to assist in the search, but bad weather limited its effort also.

By late yesterday afternoon, the search was extended further south in the direction of Pietermaritzburg. The defence force was also asking farmers in the area if they had seen or heard a plane. They also called all the cellphone numbers carried by those on board, but no one answered.

Pilots who know the area said the many hills and valleys would make a search very difficult.

On November 7, one of the airplanes, which was on the same scheduled flight as yesterday’s Dakota, ran off the landing strip at Mthatha and damaged a wheel assembly. None of the 16 people aboard was injured in that incident.

Serious questions were, however, asked after the incident, after it had come to light that the co-pilot had failed her pilot’s exams several times because of her poor flying skills. She was, however, given repeated chances until she passed.

Shortly after the incident, the concerned pilots said the Dakotas, which date from the Second World War, are being flown to pieces with the recently instituted weekly flights between Waterkloof and Mthatha.

The squadron’s pilot training programme has also been falling behind due to the pressure created by the weekly schedule.

“The squadron does most of the air force’s flying, in some of the oldest aeroplanes in the world.

“If the situation continues, this will definitely not be the last crash,” said one concerned pilot in an e-mail to sister paper Beeld.

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