Johannesburg - The death of a South African helicopter pilot in the Malaysian airliner which was apparently shot down in eastern Ukraine on Thursday was a “cruel joke”, his family said on Friday morning.
While the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) said no one on board the flight flew on a South African passport, Cameron Dalziel’s family confirmed he was one of the 298 people killed in the tragedy.
US intelligence officials said MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, a possible casualty of a rebellion by pro-Russian insurgents.
World leaders demanded an international investigation into the crash, as Kiev and Moscow blamed each other for the tragedy that stoked tension between Russia and the West.
Dalziel, 43, was originally from uMhlanga Rocks and previously worked as a Netcare 911 emergency services helicopter pilot but had worked around the world before settling in Malaysia in December.
Dalziel’s brother-in-law Shane Hattingh said on Friday morning that his (Hattingh’s) mother had been watching the news on Thursday night and had realised that Dalziel must have been on that flight.
She then had to phone her daughter, Reine, to inform her of the crash. The Dalziels have two sons, 14-year-old Sheldon and 4-year-old Cruz.
Hattingh said Dalziel was a pilot with two decades of experience.
“He’s survived (helicopter) crashes and to die in a fixed-wing craft, it’s a cruel joke,” he said.
Meanwhile, his family in uMhlanga was embroiled throughout the night in frantic efforts to confirm his death from Malaysia Airlines. Their inquiries continued on Friday morning.
Malaysia Airlines confirmed they lost contact with the Boeing 777 at about 3.15pm South African time on Thursday. It was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and crashed about 40km from the Russian border.
Dalziel was returning from training in Amsterdam to Malaysia where he worked as a pilot.
“The last 20 years he’s worked all over the world and hasn’t settled. For the first time ever they (the family) had a permanent home, they’ve literally been there for five or six months,” Hattingh said.
Dirco spokesman Nelson Kgwete said on Friday there were no South African passport holders on board MH17, adding that he assumed Dalziel was not travelling on a South African passport.
Rescue workers, policemen and even off-duty coal miners are combing the crash site on Friday.
The cause of the crash was not immediately clear. Ukraine has accused pro-Russian separatists who control the area of shooting down the plane, which they deny.
American intelligence authorities said a surface-to-air missile brought the plane down but they were still working on who fired the missile. If it was a ground-to-air missile that struck the plane, there are two possibilities – either it was a highly equipped government organisation that fired such a weapon, or the hit was a fluke – according to defence analyst Helmoed Heitman.
Initial reports on Thursday night suggested that the plane had been shot down by a Buk missile near the city of Donetsk, the stronghold of pro-Russian rebels.
Rescue workers recovered a second flight recorder on Friday, a Reuters cameraman on the scene said.
Pro-Russian separatists in the region said on Thursday that they had found one of the “black box” recorders. - Independent Foreign Service