Durban - He was eager to celebrate his third wedding anniversary in just three months.
But on Tuesday, SA Air Force Captain Francois Hugo was killed when the plane he piloted crashed in a mountainous area between Lydenburg and Sabie in Mpumalanga.
The plane went down at about 10am near the Misty Mountain Lodge in the Long Tom Pass, killing Hugo, 26, and two of his unnamed colleagues.
Two other SAAF members were seriously injured and airlifted to hospital in Nelspruit.
“We are all devastated,” said Hugo’s distraught stepmother, Maryna Hugo.
When she heard about the plane crash from friends at about midday, she feared the worst. Then a few hours later, she received a phone call.
“They didn’t tell me what was going on… only that they needed to speak to either Hugo (her husband) or Elandi (her daughter-in-law),” she said.
But her husband was not home, having left for Sierra Leone on Monday where he worked for a mining company.
“Elandi took the call. She broke the news to me. Her husband Francois had been killed in the crash. He had been piloting the plane,” she said.
Maryna described Francois as a soft-spoken young man and “a very nice boy”.
“They were a young couple. They got married in September 2011. Their third wedding anniversary was coming up,” she said.
Elandi was too distraught to speak to Independent Newspapers on Tuesday night.
Maryna said Hugo had written his entrance exams for the SAAF after he matriculated eight years ago in Ermelo, Mpumalanga.
“It was always his dream to be a pilot and to join the military. I think it was the thrill of being able to fly a plane… a dream most boys fancy,” she said.
She had been in Hugo’s life since he was just two years old.
“He was also close to his biological mother who lives in Ladysmith. We are all devastated,” she said.
Her husband was trying desperately to get back to South Africa.
“He only left on Monday. He has barely touched ground and has to come back.”
Shortly after hearing the news, Maryna took to Facebook to express her sadness, posting in Afrikaans: “I will miss you, my child. Love you so much.”
The SAAF would be making the funeral arrangements so the family was uncertain when Hugo would be laid to rest.
Employees at York Timber said they saw the SAAF Cessna Caravan C208 just before 10am, moments before it plummeted into the hillside.
Paramedics said two people were flown to Nelspruit Medi-Clinic with serious back and neck injuries.
The Department of Defence and Military Veterans spokesman, Brigadier-General Xolani Mabanga, said on Wednesday morning that the family of all those injured and killed had been informed of the tragedy.
“We are awaiting permission from them to release the names,” he said.
Spokesman for the SAPS in Mpumalanga, Brigadier Selby Mohlala, said the pilot, co-pilot and one passenger died on impact, while the other two passengers were injured.
“The Caravan formed part of 41 Squadron that participated in an operations training camp in the Lydenburg area,” said Mabanga. “The crew and the aircraft itself belongs to 41 Squadron, which is based at AFB Waterkloof.”
There has been no indication of what caused the crash. Mohlala said reports were that the weather had been fine.
“It looks as if they hit the mountain,” said Mohlala.
“A preliminary investigation is convened that will be followed by a board of inquiry, to determine the cause of the accident,” said Mabanga.
A board of inquiry is standard in such an incident.
Sources said about 95 SANDF members were booked into the Lakeview Lodge in Nelspruit for training.