Cape Town - A memorial service for four 35 Squadron members who died in a KwaZulu-Natal plane crash last week was held at Ysterplaat Air Force Base in Brooklyn on Wednesday.

All 11 crew members and passengers on a flight en route to Mthatha last Wednesday died after the C-47 Dakota aircraft of 35 Squadron they were travelling in crashed at Castle Rock in the Drakensberg. An inquiry into the accident is under way, but it is believed that severe thunderstorms in the area played a role in the accident.

Among the dead are Cape Town servicemen Major Kurt Misrole, Captain Zack Smith, Sergeant Eric Boes and Corporal Letshela Mofokeng.

Warrant Officer Jan Wilson, a close friend of Boes and spokesman for his family, said that a lot of bottled-up emotions found expression at the memorial service.

“Eric was a great man and a great airman. He was a man of God and fully dedicated to his work in the force. We were all looking forward to him returning from his trip. Eric was due to turn 40 on Friday, and we had been planning a big surprise party for him. It’s so sad. We still sang happy birthday for him, and held a candlelight ceremony for him on Friday,” said Wilson.

Boes is survived by his wife, Desiré, his son, Ebert-Lee, 16, and his daughter, Dezné, 15. Ebert-Lee has said that he wants to join the air force in honour of his father.

Misrole’s father, Wensley Misrole, also said that the last week has been “surreal - almost like a bad dream”.

“My son was such an easy-going, gentle and optimistic person. He was always pleasant and was loved by all the people in his life. We would like to know what caused the accident, but right now that is not our main concern. We understand that the investigation is under way, but that it may take some time. For now we have to look to arranging the funeral,” he said.

Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said: “This tragedy has taken away a group of young soldiers at a time when we are encouraging the rejuvenation of our force with younger members, particularly in the area of scarce skills such as the South African Air Force (SAAF).

“We are particularly saddened by the fact that, for the families gathered here, the reality of this loss will be even more stark at the time when families gather to celebrate the festive season this month.”

The service ended with a wreath-laying ceremony by Mapisa-Nqakula, other dignitaries, members of 35 Squadron and family members.

The remains of the 11 deceased are still to be handed over to the families.

Mapisa-Nqakula said that she intended to arrange for all the families to visit the crash site in KwaZulu-Natal, “to allow them to pay their last respects”.

Cape Argus