Eight bodies from the aircraft that crashed into the sea near Plettenberg Bay were positively identified, according to the Western Cape forensics pathology services. Photo: David Ritchie
Eight bodies from the aircraft that crashed into the sea near Plettenberg Bay were positively identified, according to the Western Cape forensics pathology services. Photo: David Ritchie
The Civil Aviation Authority has sent investigators to look into  the cause of an aircraft accident near Plettenberg Bay in which nine people died. Photo: David Ritchie
The Civil Aviation Authority has sent investigators to look into the cause of an aircraft accident near Plettenberg Bay in which nine people died. Photo: David Ritchie

The bodies of Gianpaolo Ravazzotti, chief executive of the Italtile group, and seven others were found among plane crash wreckage off the sea cliffs of a Garden Route nature reserve today.

Nine people - seven passengers and two pilots - were aboard the private Italtile airplane that crashed off the Robberg Nature Reserve near Plettenberg Bay yesterday afternoon. Rescuers are still trying to locate the ninth body.

Ravazzotti is the son of group chairman Gianni Ravazzotti. The others who died have been identified as Gia Celori (Italtile Ltd), Marilize Compion (Italtile Ltd), Sava Di Bella (Prima Bella Bathroom Accessories), Simon Hirschberg (Grainwave), Jody Jansen van Rensburg (CTM Alberton), Aletsia Krause (Italtile Ltd), Bronwyn Parsons (pilot, Italtile), and Alison van Staden (co-pilot).

This morning, the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) and the police dive unit pulled the bodies from the sea near the jagged cliffs of the reserve.

The aircraft did not

land as planned in Plett yesterday afternoon.

A statement issued by Italtile this morning said a full investigation was under way to determine the cause of the crash.

“Gianpaolo Ravazzotti and his colleagues tragically passed away in an aeroplane accident (yesterday). The wreckage of the aircraft has been located in the Robberg area and the bodies of all of the passengers have been found,” said Del-Maree English, on behalf of the group.

Italtile’s chief financial officer, Peter Swatton commented: “On behalf of the board, I express my heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the chairman of the group, Gianni Ravazzotti, his wife Annabel and their daughters and Gianpaolo’s wife, Vanessa, and their children, as well as the families of all of the deceased.

“The group will ensure that every effort is made to provide the counselling and support required by those affected by this tragedy.”

He said the board would announce its succession plans “in due course”.

The NSRI’s Craig Lambinon said today that debris had been found strewn over five nautical miles, and the search had been concentrated within half a nautical mile off “Die Eiland”.

The tile company had dispatched the private aircraft on a flight from Queenstown in the Eastern Cape to Plettenberg Bay.

But it “did not make its planned landing scheduled for 4.30pm. Consequently, a full search and rescue operation was instituted,” the company said in an earlier statement.

The alert prompted two organisations into instant action: the Air Rescue Co-ordination Centre (ARCC) in Pretoria and the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Plattekloof, Cape Town.

The two organisations co-ordinated the rescue, and requested help from a wide range of organisations, including Metro EMS rescue teams, Wilderness Search and Rescue, Plettenberg Bay Protection Services, Eden Disaster Management, volunteers from the Mountain Club of SA and the police. Maritime Radio Services also urged all ships at sea in the area to be alert.

Lambinon said the search had started late yesterday in dense fog along the coastline.

“No reports of sightings of an aircraft were obtained during preliminary enquiries extended to NSRI coast watchers throughout the area. The Emergency Services throughout the Southern Cape area were placed on alert and a JOCC (Joint Operations Control Centre) was established at the base of the Plettenberg Bay Fire and Rescue Service,” he reported.

Lambinon said the ARCC had informed the control centre that radar tracking may have put the aircraft near the nature reserve when contact had been lost.

The extensive search and rescue operation started just before 7pm, and included NSRI sea rescue craft and land hiking patrols.

The combined mini-army of rescuers had combed the reserve and the surrounding coast, but dense vegetation had hampered the search and rescue effort on land.

The search was suspended at 1.55am until first light, he said.

Early today, as dawn broke, wreckage was spotted, and boats were dispatched to Die Eiland area, where the first bodies were found at around 8am, a senior source said. - Cape Argus