Cape Town – Daily maintenance inspections would likely have prevented a helicopter crash that killed pilot Hendrik "Bees" Marais during a firefighting mission in Cape Town last March.
This was the opinion of the SA Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) which compiled a report on the accident in the Cape Point National Park.
Marais, 71, was flying the Garlick U1-1H helicopter for Working on Fire (WoF) on the March 8 2015 when it crashed and burst into flames.
The CAA found that the seasoned pilot struggled to regain control following the loss of tail rotor thrust, caused by a fracture of a control cable.
It said the wear on this cable went undetected due to maintenance staff failing to perform daily inspections after January 20 last year.
"This should be regarded as a significant contributory factor to this accident, as the serviceability status of this helicopter was severely compromised," the report stated.
Marais took off from Newlands Forest Station at around 09:45.
Thirty kilometres into the flight, a warning light in the cockpit indicated that there was something wrong at the back of the aircraft.
Moments later he called "mayday mayday mayday" over the radio.
As the craft fell to the ground, the Bambi bucket (water-holding device) swung up into the main rotor.
The report found there were inadequate mechanical engineers at the time to ensure the entire WoF helicopter fleet was maintained according to schedule.
"This was found to be significant in the investigation, as it showed a blatant disregard for the quest for aviation safety and the preservation of human life."
Kishugu, implementers of the WoF programme, on Thursday said it was in the process of investigating all the report’s findings.
"We take our business very seriously and are committed to safety and security standards as stipulated by the CAA. We will do whatever it takes to comply to their standards," said Kishugu spokesperson Naranda Leeuwner.
The report stated that the authority revoked both the air operator certificate and the aircraft maintenance organisation certificate after a safety audit in June/July last year.
Leeuwner said they underwent a "very rigorous" five-phase process with the CAA to recertify their grounded aircraft.
They returned to full operation at the end of last year.
"All steps have been completed successfully and we are now complying to the highest international aviation standards regarding all aspects of our aerial operations."