Huey helicopters not unsafe - agent

Cape Town - Pilots who fly Huey helicopters for Working on Fire are not afraid to fly them, despite media reports that they are not properly maintained, the agent responsible for operating the helicopters says.

Netwerk24 reported on Monday that media reports over the weekend indicated that warnings were sent out that the helicopters were unsafe to fly. This came after three pilots were killed in two helicopter crashes in recent months, which led to questions about their maintenance and safety records.

Hueys are former military helicopters which are used by Working on Fire to drop loads of water onto flames.

But Naranda Leeuwner, spokesperson for Kishugu Aviation, said it is a misrepresentation that the helicopters have mechanical problems, and an investigation into the two crashes must be completed.

Warning

Rapport reported that helicopter manufacturer Bell warned the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) about the two crashed helicopters, and indicated that the helicopters may be equipped with illegal parts.

The Weekend Argus reported that the Commercial Aviation Association of South Africa had met in November last year to discuss concerns about the lack of quality and maintenance control on the Working on Fire Huey helicopters.

According to the report, the association had been warned of the "bogus nature" of some of the Hueys, which were rebuilt using scrap or unapproved parts, and it had written to the CAA about the undesirable operational conditions of the Hueys about a year ago.

However, Leeuwner said the helicopters are maintained according to international standards. They are still being used countrywide in firefighting operations, she said.

Leeuwner denied they received a warning from Bell, saying they only received concerns about the classification of the helicopters, and that no people may be transported during operations.

She added that rumours about the maintenance of the helicopters were offensive, as the pilots were highly skilled and flew these helicopters every day, and would not have taken off if they were concerned about maintenance standards.

Crashes

Working on Fire pilots flew a total of 9 800 flight hours with Hueys in highly dangerous areas without any fatal accidents, Leeuwner said.

The two crashes cannot be explained at this stage and are being investigated, she added.

Pilot Hendrik Bees Marais, 77, was killed in a crash while fighting a fire near Cape Point in March. In April, Darrel Rae, 39, and Jastun Visagie, 23, were killed when their helicopter crashed in Bainskloof.

Department of Environmental Affairs spokesperson Zolile Nqayi confirmed to Netwerk24 that the helicopters are maintained on a regular basis, and audited four times a year.

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