Cape Town's iconic Table Mountain looms over the city's Waterfront district. File picture: Reuters
Cape Town's iconic Table Mountain looms over the city's Waterfront district. File picture: Reuters

Maybe a meteorite, but not a helicopter

By Junior Bester. Time of article published Sep 30, 2012

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Cape Town had its own “it’s a bird! It’s a plane!” moment when multiple reports that a helicopter had crashed off the coast of Blouberg on Friday night saw rescuers across the spectrum mobilised, only to turn up… nothing.

Reports included suggestions of “something flying through the air that looked like a shooting star or rocket”, complete with green light and in one case, a flash of flame, which suddenly disappeared.

By yesterday morning not a scrap of wreckage had turned up, however. And NSRI spokesman Craig Lambinon reported that what the witnesses were likely to have seen was in fact “meteorite fall”.

He said it had come to light that an Airlink pilot reported seeing “what he believed to be a meteorite fall across the western part of the Western Cape, at the same time as the crash sightings”.

“The pilot had just reached cruising altitude in an Airlink passenger plane after taking off from Durban’s airport, heading towards Cape Town.”

Lambinon added that more witnesses at the Cape Town International Airport also reported seeing what was believed to be a meteorite fly across the West Coast skyline.

 

In spite of monitoring the situation throughout the night, Lambinon said there were no reports of any helicopter either overdue at its destination or missing.

Asked to comment on the meteorite theory,

Case Rijsdijk, who writes a regular astronomy column in The Good Weekend, said, however, that it was unlikely to have been a meteorite, although he couldn’t offer an alternative explanation either.

 

“If a meteorite the size of a helicopter had hit the sea just off Blouberg, the whole world would know about it. That would be a real event,” he said.

“It could have been a small fireball the size of your fist, but that is unlikely to have plunged into the sea.

“So many people saw so many different things – one person was quoted as smelling aviation fuel – that it’s impossible to say what it was,” he added.

 

The NSRI also confirmed that a similar incident took place in Cape Town last year.

“Approximately a year ago, witnesses claimed to have seen flares being fired from an aeroplane that crashed into the sea between Melkbosstrand and Saldanha Bay, but an off-duty Cape Town International Airport employee who was driving near the scene heard the reports and called in.

“He confirmed to the NSRI that it was without a doubt a meteorite falling across the sky at the same time that other witnesses had thought they had seen an aeroplane.”

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