Caryn Dolley, Michelle Jones and Own Correspondents
THERE was no mayday, just dead air and now a lot of questions.
Early yesterday morning an Oryx South African Airforce helicopter found the wreckage of the missing Dakota in the vicinity of Giants Castle in the Drakensberg.
They found it where search and rescue personnel had predicted it would be. The plane hadn’t deviated from its planned flight path.
All 11 on board were dead. Three of them were from Cape Town: Captain Zack Smith and Major Kurt Misrole, both of whom were pilots, and Sergeant Eric Boes an air loadmaster, part of the flight crew.
One of the first people at the crash site was Netcare 911 spokesman Chris Botha.
“It was a horrible, horrible scene. There was debris scattered across a very large area,” said Botha. “I have the greatest respect for the search and rescue people who had to work in such thin air, packaging each of the bodies.”
The crash had happened at an altitude of 10 870 feet.
The bodies were taken to a mortuary in a nearby town.
The plane, according to Johnny Smit the head of Aeronautical Search and Rescue, hadn’t deviated from its flight plan.
Now the SANDF wants to convene a board of inquiry to investigate what went wrong and why this type of plane, which has been in operation for over 75 years, crashed.
Besides the three Capetonians, the dead crewmen were: Sergeant Boy Klaas Baloyi, Sergeant Joseph Mokhetla Mamabolo and Corporal Letshela Mofokeng.
The passengers on the plane were Sergeant Lulamile Sobantu, Corporal Njabulo Wellington Khomo, Corporal Abisai Matlaila, Corporal Msanyana Jacob Mthombeni and Lance Corporal Notty Klaas Aphane.
The aircraft a C-47TP from 35 squadron left Waterkloof airforce base on Wednesday at 7.45am en route to Mthatha Airport. On board was a relief team who were to replace the security personnel guarding the Mthatha Airport.
The teams are rotated on a weekly basis. At 9.45am when the aircraft failed to reach Mthatha a search and rescue mission was activated.
Within minutes Smit and a team of search and rescue specialists convened in the Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre at O R Tambo airport and began trying to establish where the plane had gone down.
They called up the Dakota’s flight plan from a database, consulted meteorological reports and came up with likely crash sites. “We identified an area of probability and it was close to here where the plane was found,” he said.
But rescuers had to wait – weather conditions and visibility were so poor, no aircraft could begin searching.
Yesterday at first light, ground teams made up of the Mountain Rescue Club of South Africa began hiking to the suspected site. They were beaten by the Oryx helicopter.
Yesterday Zildene Smith, the sister of SAAF pilot Zack Smith, confirmed that he had been on the aircraft and was from Cape Town.
“We’re not sure what happened. We just know he was on
the plane,” she said.
On Facebook Duveen Bam said Zack Smith was her cousin and had been piloting the plane. “The aircraft flew into a mountain, everyone is dead.”
Bam said she was praying for, among others, Zack Smith’s children and wife.
Earlier, before hearing everyone aboard the craft had been killed, she wrote that the weather had been bad and that it was suspected Zack Smith may have had to make an emergency landing.
Kurt Misrole’s father, Wensley Misrole, said he had received a phone call on Wednesday to say his son was on the missing aircraft. “That is the call every parent would dread,” he said.
Their family was struggling to deal with the news, he said. Misrole said his son was 32 years old and had been a pilot for 12 years. Kurt Misrole and his wife, Carin, would have celebrated their second anniversary in February,.
Most of the crew were married with children, some only babies.
On Facebook Beau Skarda paid tribute to Misrole, as “a gentleman and all round great guy”.
“To his family and friends as well as all the rest of the crew and passengers and their loved ones who are left behind – my heartfelt condolences. To my colleagues and friends at 35 Sqn, there are no words – utterly gutted.”