By SHAIN GERMANER, ANGELIQUE SERRAO AND PHINDILE NKOSI
Johannesburg - Warrant Officer Thabo Abednigo Mahlaba was last seen inside the Absa branch in Krugersdorp last Thursday, withdrawing money.
Since being captured on the bank’s CCTV cameras at about 12.45pm, he has vanished without a trace.
His family are enduring emotional turmoil since he went missing a week ago.
Police have launched an extensive manhunt to locate him – dead or alive.
Meanwhile, police are still investigating the possibility that the disappearance could be linked to the Planes Gang, whose activities – kidnapping their victims from banks – was revealed by The Star on Monday.
Mahlaba’s wife of 31 years, Deborah, said she had not stopped worrying since he failed to come home last Thursday afternoon.
“The public must do what they can. If they have seen him, please call the police,” she said in a quivering voice.
On Wednesday, at least a dozen officers, two sniffer dogs and a police helicopter spent hours combing various stretches of veld in and around Krugersdorp.
From around 9am, the group of Kagiso police officers had gathered near the large open stretch of ground on Kruger Street, hoping to find some leads.
The group then fanned out into the charred field.
“We hope we can find him, for the sake of his family,” said an officer among a group that had stayed behind.
A police helicopter was summoned shortly after, and began circling the area, but besides raising a huge amount of dust, turned up nothing.
Police officers on the scene were being guided by an informant who earlier this week claimed to have details on the Planes Gang and the places the thugs dumped their victims.
The investigation team then moved onto the veld next to Krugersdorp Prison, but again found nothing.
Several hours later, after conducting the same search in the fields lining the R14 near Krugersdorp, the team called it a day and returned to Kagiso police station.
“We have to keep going. We keep on hoping that he’ll come back,” said provincial police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini.
He said investigators needed information from the public if they were to have any chance of finding the missing officer – or his body.
He said all available police resources would be used to help find the missing man.
While Dlamini was reluctant to directly link the disappearance to the Planes Gang, a source close to the investigation said the possibility was being investigated.
The gang’s activities recently became known through Andre Snyman, the head of crime-fighting organisation eBlockwatch. Snyman, who posted an image of the officer at the Absa branch last Thursday, believes his disappearance bears the hallmarks of the Planes Gang’s methods.
“When a team took a look at the footage, they picked up a guy who they recognised as one of the gang who follow clients from the bank after drawing money,” Snyman said on eBlockwatch’s Facebook page.
The gangsters call themselves The Planes “because they fly like planes behind the victim when they follow them from the bank”.
A police investigator said the gang had been operating for more than 10 years and were also involved in other crimes, such as house robberies and hijackings. The cars they hijack are then used to commit the other crimes.
Anyone with information about Mahlaba’s whereabouts or the Planes Gang can contact the investigating officer, Warrant Officer Lucky Ndlovu, on 011 696 9000. The information may also be reported to Crime Stop at 0860 010 111.