Zodidi Dano, Warda Meyer and ANA
Cape Town - On Saturday, helicopter pilot Hendrik Willem “Bees” Marais was showing a little girl who wanted to be a firefighter pilot how a helicopter works. Hours later, he died while battling a raging fire near Olifantsbos in the Cape Point Nature Reserve.
Tributes have poured in for Marais, 71, a Huey helicopter pilot who emerged as one of Cape Town’s heroes who fought the fires that gripped the South Peninsula over the past week.
Marais was part of the Working on Fire crew.
The chopper crashed while water-bombing at the Cape of Good Hope section of Table Mountain National Park, Cape Point, at about 11.30am.
Marais was airlifted to a nearby hospital where he was declared dead on arrival.
The pilot was among those lauded for exceptional work over the past week, when more than 2 000 “drops” – each of about 1 100 litres – on the fire that started near Muizenberg and spread to Noordhoek, Hout Bay, Tokai and Constantia.
Working on Fire spokesman Evelyn Holtzhausen said the incident occurred on the western side of the reserve. “Marais was killed when his Huey was in a forced landing while on wildfire suppression duty.”
The Civil Aviation Authority would investigate to determine the cause of the crash.
Local Government MEC Anton Bredell described the accident as a “tragedy”, adding that it had been a very difficult week for disaster management teams in the province.
Sunday’s crash follows an accident on Thursday morning which claimed the life of West Coast firefighter Nazeem Davies, 25, who died while on his way to help firefighters in the Greater Hermanus area of the Overstrand Municipality.
Bredell said Davies and Marais’s death was a double blow to the province.
“Our thoughts are with the family of the victim, who died while battling one of the most destructive fires in our province. His contribution and sacrifice will never be forgotten,” Bredell added.
Mayor Patricia de Lille said she was deeply saddened by Marais’s death.
“It is with great sadness that I extend my condolences to his family, friends and the public safety community. The public safety and aviation fraternity has lost a great pilot. We salute him and pay tribute to him for the contribution that he made in saving lives and protecting property.”
De Lille said Marais was a skilled pilot who also worked at the South African Air Force, the police and the South African Red Cross Air Mercy Service.
Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa expressed the government’s and her condolences to Marais’s wife, Jackie, his family, friends and colleagues in the Working on Fire programme.
“We have all become starkly aware of the tremendous dedication and skills these pilots display in the fires that ravaged the Cape Peninsula over the past week.
“Were it not for them and their firefighter counterparts on the ground, Cape Town would have experienced far greater damage, loss of property, and risks to lives.”
Molewa said the helicopter had been part of a team of two helicopters and a spotter plane on their way to fight the fire in the Cape Point reserve.
Meanwhile, people expressed shock and condolences on Twitter.
Dylan James: “@DylanJamesZA:@Met Bees Marais yesterday, he showed a young fan (who wants to be a firefighter pilot) how a heli works #capefire”
Arshad Abed: “@Arshad_G_Hoosen: Sad to hear about the #Huey that has crashed while working on suppressing the #fires in the #Cape. May the pilot RIP. #ChopperCrash”
Mike Kabat: “[email protected]: “Bees Marais who was killed today in chopper crash visited our son post op in hosp 11 years ago in full flying kit as his hero RIP. Respect”
JodiTocker: “[email protected]: Terrible news: Fatal chopper crash near Cape Point – pilot deceased. @wo_fire helicopter earlier this week. #CapeFire”
Martin Williams: “[email protected]_MJWIlliams :Devastated to learn of the death of pilot of fire rescue chopper. Condolences to his family and colleagues. #ChopperCrash”