A police helicopter flies near the scene of the chopper crash in the Cape Point reserve on March 8, 2015. Photo: Nic Bothma

Cape Town - A helicopter pilot was killed after he crash-landed while water-bombing a fire at Cape Point on Sunday, Working on Fire (WoF) spokesperson Evelyn Holtzhausen said.

“A WoF helicopter pilot, Hendrik Willem ‘Bees’ Marais was killed when his Huey was in a forced landing while on wildfire suppression duty in the Cape of Good Hope section of Table Mountain National Park (Cape Point) at about 11.30am,” Holtzhausen said on Sunday.

“The incident happened near Olifantsbos on the Western side of the reserve.”

Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa said on Sunday: “It is with great sadness that we must announce that one of the Working on Fire helicopters which has been active in the Cape Town fires, has made a forced landing and that the pilot of the helicopter, Mr Hendrik Willem Marais, was killed in the accident.”

She said the helicopter was part of a team of two helicopters and a spotter plane on their way to fight a fire in the Cape Point Nature Reserve.

“I wish to express the government’s and my personal condolences to the pilot’s wife, Mrs Jackie Marais, family, friends and his colleagues in the Working on Fire programme,” Molewa said. “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 their and their firefighter counterparts on the ground, Cape Town would have experienced far greater damage and losses of property, and risks to lives.”

Marais was one of the pilots lauded for the exceptional work over the past week, when over 2 000 “drops” were made (each of about 1 100 litres) on the fire that started near Muizenberg and spread to Noordhoek, Hout Bay, Tokai and Constantia.

“As a nation, we salute the bravery and service of these dedicated firefighters, and mourn the loss of Mr Marais in the course of duty,” the Minister added.

Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille said on Sunday: “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.”

Marais was a skilled pilot who had also worked at the South African Air Force (SAAF), South African Police Services (SAPS) and South African Red Cross Air Mercy Service (SAMS).

The Chaplains Alert Western Cape, a volunteer organisation attached to the City’s Disaster Risk Management Centre, was providing counselling, trauma support and bereavement to his colleagues following the aircraft crash, De Lille added.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille had earlier tweeted: “Huey helicopter doing a fire recce and control came down near Cape Point. Tragically pilot killed. #CapeFire”

The cause of the crash is being probed by the Civil Aviation Authority, Holtzhausen said.

Many riders in Sunday’s 38th edition of the world famous Cape Town Cycle Tour had donned red riding gear in tribute to the firefighters who had been battling the devastating fires which ravaged large parts of the city’s South Peninsula this past week.

ANA