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Durban - A bride waiting in a horse-drawn carriage for her groom watched in horror as his helicopter crashed near the Pietermaritzburg Botanical Gardens on Saturday.
The Bell Jet Ranger, which had taken off from Virginia Airport, had been chartered to fly Trinidad-based dental surgeon Rishi Ramdeo, his parents Vijay and Danmathie and his brother-in-law Robert Soogram to the wedding and lavish reception at the gardens.
Ramdeo was to tie the knot with Nerissa Govender, who is from Pietermaritzburg.
More than 300 guests who had been waiting for the service to begin saw the helicopter descend and go into a spin. It plunged to the ground and the twisted fuselage came to a rest near the roadway, entangled in palisade fencing.
Bystander Jon Hanekom said, “I was watching the chopper as it flew over the city. Then it descended and started to bank. It sounded like the engine had gone off and it started to spin. It looked as if the pilot was trying to put it down in the middle of a large traffic circle.
“There was a loud metallic thump as it hit the road. Then it was flung into the fence. When the dust had settled, I ran over and the pilot was lying on the floor. The four passengers were still strapped into their seats,” he said.
ER24 spokesman Derrick Banks said medics had to free the injured from the wreckage. “They were stabilised at the scene and taken to the Netcare St Anne’s for further treatment. They’re all stable,” he said.
Ramdeo family spokesman Yugusan Govender said tragedy was averted by divine intervention.
“It is unfortunate this happened on such an auspicious day, but we are thankful there were no fatalities,” he said.
Govender said the bride and groom were reunited as he lay in his hospital bed. “She was distraught when she saw the helicopter go down. I cannot even begin to describe how she felt.
“Everyone is shaken, as can be expected. The family has rallied around and we hope for a speedy recovery for the family and the pilot,” said Govender.
He said the wedding and honeymoon had been put on hold.
Civil Aviation Authority spokeswoman Phindile Gwebu said the cause of the crash was not known.
“The aircraft was badly damaged. Our investigation is continuing,” she said.