SAPS gets new chopper

2004-01-30 15:30

Johannesburg - The police's air wing received a major boost on Friday with the donation of a new helicopter and three belly tank spraying systems by the United States.

The Squirrel helicopter increased the police's fleet of this particular type of aircraft to six and total number of helicopters in service to 26, deputy national police commissioner Andre Pruis said in Pretoria.

He symbolically received the key for the aircraft and officially took receipt of three spraying systems from US ambassador to South Africa, Cameron Hume.

"With an extended endurance range of approximately 600km, this helicopter will almost double the reach of the air wing and will increase their reaction time - this proves extremely effective in responding to crime situations in both rural and urban areas," Pruis said.

The spray systems, used mainly for destroying dagga plantations, would be fitted to three helicopters.

Pruis said the spray systems would be of great assistance as the police's previous aerial dagga-spraying equipment became inoperable in 2002.


"Although it is illegal to cultivate and supply dagga, the growing demand for this drug means that, to the unscrupulous, the earnings derived from this trade by far outweigh the risks attached," Pruis said.

"Dagga is traditionally cultivated in the mountainous and inaccessible areas of the country which means that aerial spraying is the most efficient means by which this drug can be destroyed."

The helicopter would be based in Potchefstroom.

"The unique 'hot and high' performance capabilities of the Squirrel makes the aircraft ideal for the extremely hot flying conditions experienced in the North West province," Pruis said.

Hume said at the handing over ceremony that assisting in the fight against drugs and crime in South Africa was one of his country's key priorities.

"It is in the US interest to share our experience with South Africa and to assist where we can in fighting the drug trade," he said.

"The tanks will allow the police to conduct spray missions against illegal drug crops. This is one of the most important tactics used in destroying the illicit drug chain," he noted.