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KwaZulu-Natal - There was no mayday, just dead air – and now a lot of questions after a South African Air Force (SAAF) Dakota crashed.
Early on Thursday morning, an Oryx SAAF helicopter found the wreckage of the missing aircraft in the vicinity of Giant’s Castle peak in the Drakensberg.
They found it where search-and-rescue personnel had predicted it would be.
All 11 on board were dead.
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 greatest respect for the search-and-rescue people who had to work in such thin air, packaging each of the bodies.”
The crash had taken place at an altitude of 3 313m and the bodies were taken to a mortuary of a nearby town.
The plane, according to Johnny Smit, the head of Aeronautical Search and Rescue, had not deviated from its planned 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 more than 75 years, had crashed.
The SANDF released the names of the dead: Major Kurt Cecil Misrole; Captain Zach Malcolm Smith; Sergeant Boy Klaas Baloyi; Sergeant Eric Boes; 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.
Although the SA Air Force is yet to confirm the origins of all crew members who died, the Pretoria News was reliably informed that at least two military personnel from the city were part of the crew.
The two, Baloyi and Mamabolo, were aboard the plane that crashed.
The aicraft was on its way from Air Force Base to Mthatha.
The aircraft, a C-47TP from 35 squadron, left Waterkloof on Wednesday morning at 7.45am en route to Mthatha Airport. On board was a relief team that was to replace the security personnel guarding the Umtata 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 OR Tambo International 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 as weather conditions were so poor, no aircraft could begin searching.
On Thursday 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.
Zildene Smith, the sister of SAAF pilot 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 aircraft. “The aircraft flew into a mountain; everyone is dead. Thank you everyone that prayed with us,” she wrote.
Bam said she was praying for, among others, Smith’s children and wife.
Misrole’s father, Wensley, said he received a phone call on Wednesday that his son had been 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. “Not very well. The shock is great.”
DA shadow minister for defence and military veterans David Maynier on thursday welcomed the announcement of the board of inquiry. “We have to get to the bottom of why the aircraft was allowed to operate in such poor weather conditions and caused the aircraft to crash.
“The DA extends its condolences to the family and friends of the 11 members of the defence force who died in the crash,” said Maynier.
Major K Misrole
Captain ZM Smith
Sergeant BK Baloyi
Sergeant E Boes
Sergeant JM Mamabolo
Corporal L Mofokeng
Sergeant L Sobantu
Corporal NW Khomo
Corporal A Matlaila
Corporal MJ Mthombeni
Lance Corporal NK Aphane