Cape Town - A second helicopter crash in a matter of weeks killed a pilot and his crew member late Wednesday afternoon while dousing a fire in Bainskloof.
The Working on Fire aircraft crashed during an emergency landing while trying to extinguish a “rapidly spreading” fire.
The pilot Darrel Rea and a firefighter helicopter safety leader Jastin Visagie were both from the Tulbagh area. Their families were notified of their deaths late on Wednesday night.
The fatalities on Wednesday bring to three the number of aerial firefighters who have perished in six weeks while initiating water drops to extinguish major fires in the province.
Firefighting helicopter pilot Hendrik “Bees” Marais was killed on March 9 while fighting a fire at Cape Point.
On Wednesday night, Working on Fire spokesman Linton Rensburg told the Cape Times that the helicopter was dispatched at around 3.30pm to douse a fire “rapidly spreading” on both slopes of a mountain near Bainskloof.
“Late this afternoon, one of our Working on Fire helicopters was dispatched to Bainskloof to help contain a blaze. The pilot was forced to make an emergency landing and the chopper crashed, causing two fatalities.
“Police and the Civil Aviation Authority are investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident,” he said.
Cape Winelands Fire Department station commander Jaco Thuynsma said firefighters were deployed to control the blaze at around 3pm.
“There has been an unfortunate incident. Thirty minutes after being dispatched, at around 4pm, a chopper crashed. There were two fatalities,” he said.
Thuynsma said the fire had spread over an extensive area on both sides of the mountain near Bainskloof Pass.
“A large amount of fynbos has been destroyed. The fire seems to have started on a hiking trail. We will deploy more resources to control the blaze, but it looks like it will be an overnight operation. We should have the fire out by the morning,” he said.
An owner of a guest house in Bainskloof, Glenda Rudolph, said she had witnessed the blaze, but was not aware that a helicopter had crashed.
“It looked like a terrible fire. We had to abandon the guest house. It is a tragedy that those people had to die while making sure the fire does not damage properties and the natural habitat,” she said.
Marais, who was 71, also died during an emergency landing last month.
He had been working overtime, helping to control fires that had ravaged large parts of the Cape peninsula.
Marais radioed fellow pilots to make a forced landing and seconds later his helicopter crashed.
Trained for war, Marais spent most of his career saving the lives of others. The authorities are still investigating that accident.