‘This is no ordinary mate’

2014-07-19 00:00

CAMERON Dalziel sent a joke and a proud photo of his upgraded ticket to his Durban friends before boarding the Malaysia Airlines jet.

The senior Durban rescue helicopter pilot wrote excited words to the effect of: “Check me — bumped up to business class!”

Yesterday, those friends were struggling to grasp how a man who had survived a helicopter crash and hops around a dozen conflict zones could be killed while “probably chugging a beer” in a Boeing’s business class cabin at 33 000 feet.

The Northwood High School old boy was one of 298 people killed when a long-range missile shot down their Boeing 777 airliner over the separatist conflict zone in Ukraine.

Yesterday, Ukraine government officials said 181 bodies had been recovered — but that armed separatists remained in charge of the vast, horrific crash site near Donetsk.

The shoot-down triggered an international crisis, with western outrage focusing on pro-Russian rebels and the Russia government. Russia’s support allegedly includes advanced weapons, like the crew-operated missile system under suspicion. Russia blames Ukraine.

Described by veteran pilots yesterday as “one of the world’s best rescue pilots”, Dalziel (43) took his flying skills everywhere from the conflict zones of Kashmir to rescues in Kloof Gorge and the ice floes of Antarctica.

His Umhlanga family were described by friends as “distraught” yesterday, after a day battling even to confirm his death with Malaysia Airlines.

Having lived in Ballito, Dalziel, his wife Reine and their two sons moved to Malaysia last year to fly rig crews and emergency operations for major oil companies. Weekend Witness understands that his widow and children will return to South Africa next week.

The whole family had been scheduled to start a holiday back in Durban in two weeks’ time.

His close friend and fellow pilot Clyde Dalling said: “This is no ordinary mate we’ve lost. He was part of our lives and cannot be replaced. A part of all of us died in that crash yesterday.”

The news, and the shock, spread quickly throughout Durban’s global air rescue network yesterday morning. Chopper paramedic Jack Haskins Jnr tweeted Dalziel’s “awesome” generosity from Afghanistan, while paramedic Neil Noble in Australia reported he was “Mourning [the] tragic loss of one of the world’s best rescue helicopter pilots — Great man, father, husband.”

Fellow pilot Hayden Ford said: “Cameron was life itself — we are all devastated.”

Another Durban friend, David Doull — a commercial airline pilot who has flown over full major war zones in Afghanistan — described the attack on the Boeing as “madness”.

“This should never happen — in Afghanistan we were briefed on the fact that shoulder-launched missiles could reach 10 000, 18 000 foot max. We took precautions like spiral descents into the airfields. But this incident was madness — the only way you can get a radar-guided missile like this is through a government agency. It is just so unlikely — I’d happily fly those routes again tomorrow.”

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