Airfield vandalised during lockdown

2020-05-21 06:03
Most of the Uitenhage airfield fencing, which was erected at a cost of R2.3 million, has been stolen during the lockdown period. Photo: LOURENS KRUGER

Most of the Uitenhage airfield fencing, which was erected at a cost of R2.3 million, has been stolen during the lockdown period. Photo: LOURENS KRUGER

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THE Uitenhage airfield has since the start of lockdown been fiercely targeted by criminals who have caused damages estimated to exceed millions of Rands.

Colin Dettmann, chairperson of the Uitenhage Airfield Association said the situation is out of control.

“We put up a new fence at the cost of R2.3 million a while ago, most of it is gone now. Stolen in broad daylight,” said Dettmann.

“The criminals are so arrogant they are actually sawing the fence off while we are at the hangars. When the police arrive, the criminals disappear into the bushes, just to get out again after the police have left and continue with their stealing.

“We have received information that the thieves are selling the fence and poles in KwaNobuhle. Apparently, they sell the poles at a cost of R10 each.”

Since the start of 2020, Dettmann has had five break-ins at his hangar. Most of the other hangars have also been targeted.

“They steal anything. Compressors, tools, batteries out of aeroplanes and even my microwave and stove were stolen from the small kitchen area in the hangar.

“Fortunately, the criminals had not yet caused any damage to any of the aeroplanes,” said Dettmann.

The airfield has been targeted by criminals for several years. During January 2013, thieves started a fire in one of the hangars. The fire destroyed seven trikes, a Windrose motor glider and a Scheibe Falke.

As a result of the fence being stolen, airstrips are now favoured for cattle to graze on. Large herds are seen in the late afternoon as the cattle herders bring them to the airstrips.

“I foresee trouble with the cattle on the airstrips when we will start flying again one of these days. We are awaiting permits as aeroplanes need to get in the air to keep it maintained.”

According to Lourens Kruger, organiser of the annual Wings & Wheels Festival, the event was held especially for the past six years to help raise funds for the maintenance and upgrading of the airfield.

“What is happening here is very sad. All the efforts of the past six years are being demolished by criminals. There is no way that we will be able to, in the current situation of this unforeseen pandemic together with the increasing out of control criminal activities, be able to put up a fence again,” said Kruger.

“Another huge concern is that air ambulances use this airstrip in cases of emergencies and with cattle all over the airfield, it definitely is a high risk for landing as well as taking off. The same applies for smaller aeroplanes which are being directed to Uitenhage whenever thick fog prohibits landing at the Port Elizabeth airport. With no fence and all the criminal activities, it then is needed to arrange for extra security to safeguard the aeroplanes,” said Kruger.

Police spokesperson captain Gerda Swart confirmed that several cases of burglary and theft at the Uitenhage airfield have been reported to the Uitenhage police.

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