Johannesburg - The SA National Defence Force on Friday denied a report that former president Nelson Mandela's medicine was on board the military aircraft that crashed in the Drakensberg near Ladysmith.
“There is no truth in that as far as I know,” SANDF head of communications Siphiwe Dlamini said.
Neither did he want to entertain claims that Mandela's medical team refused to board the plane out of safety fears. These claims were made in a statement by the SA Security Forces Union (Sasfu), a trade union which was deregistered by the defence department last year.
On Friday, Beeld newspaper reported there was a possibility that the plane, which was en route to Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, was allowed to fly in the severe weather conditions because Mandela's medicine was on board.
Colleagues told the newspaper that the pilots were professionals who would not take chances unless there was a really good reason for it.
Eleven people, including six SA Air Force members, died when the Dakota aircraft crashed.
The aircraft went missing en route to Mthatha after it took off from Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria on Wednesday. It was expected to land in Mthatha at 10am. After no communication from the aircraft, the SAAF activated a search and rescue mission but severe weather conditions in the area hindered the operation.
The wreckage was located in the Drakensberg mountains on Thursday morning.
Sasfu claimed that Mandela's medical staff was supposed to have been on the plane, but safety fears stopped them from boarding.
“The aircraft that crashed has had technical problems previously that have been reported by the medical staff who are taking care of Mr Mandela in Umthatha.” Sasfu said in a statement.
“Due to the incidents, the medical staff refused to board the Dakota airplane… That is how their lives were saved from the crash.”
Dlamini said the claims were false, that the plane had been overhauled and that it was basically a “new plane”.
“As far as I am concerned these people (Sasfu) do not exist. So I don't want to entertain that,” he said.
“The only challenge the plane had was flying at a high altitude.”
A board of inquiry had been convened to investigate the cause of the accident, Dlamini added.
“Investigators are deep in their work and we should allow the enquiry to complete its work before we speculate on what happened.”
Dlamini said the SANDF was unhappy that the names of the 11 people were released by some media, saying it was unprofessional because not all their families had been consulted.
“The names of the deceased will be withheld until all the members of the family have been duly informed and given the necessary respect,” he said.
“I wasn't consulted prior to the release of the names and I don't know what the urgency was.”
The SANDF would release the list of names and give details once all the families had been informed.
“A statement will be released once we are satisfied that all the necessary steps were taken to respect the families of the deceased,” Dlamini said. - Sapa