A few days after the crash, the families of the deceased gathered at the accident site for a memorial service. Picture: Debbie Yazbek
A few days after the crash, the families of the deceased gathered at the accident site for a memorial service. Picture: Debbie Yazbek

Netcare helicopter crash was ’not survivable’, says Sacaa preliminary report

By Mervyn Naidoo Time of article published Feb 28, 2021

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Durban - The South African Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa) released its preliminary accident report this week on the helicopter crash that claimed the lives of a medical team on a “mercy mission” and the pilot, in Winterton, KZN.

Netcare’s Bell 430 helicopter was cruising at approximately 725 feet above ground level when it started to come apart mid-air.

According to the report, the January 21 crash was “not survivable” as the craft burst into flames after plummeting rapidly to the ground.

The Sacaa compiled the report, according to Civil Aviation Regulations, as part of their commitment to promote safety and reduce accidents, and without apportioning blame or liability.

In compiling the interim report, Sacaa’s accident and incident investigations division led the fact-finding mission, which centred on the KZN crash-site.

Dr Kgopotso Rudolph Mononyane, a cardiothoracic surgeon; Dr Siyabonga Mahlangu; nurse Mpho Xaba; paramedic Sinjin Joshua Farrance; and pilot Mark Stoxreiter, a National Airways Corporation employee, were killed in the crash.

White crosses were planted at the helicopter crash scene in WInterton, KZN that claimed the lives of four medics and the pilot of the craft. Picture: Debbie Yazbek

Their mission was to urgently collect and relocate a patient from Hillcrest Hospital to another health-care facility where more specialised treatment could be administered.

They were delayed when Mononyane responded to a request from a doctor friend to help save the life of Minister Jackson Mthembu, who had experienced Covid-19-related complications.

Despite the efforts of Mononyane and other medics, Mthembu died.

Mononyane, Mahlangu and Xaba were based at Joburg’s Milpark Hospital. They gathered at the Ultimate Heli heliport in Midrand, together with Farrance, for the flight to KZN, which Stoxreiter piloted.

After a pre-flight inspection, passengers being briefed on safety matters, and declaring flight details to the nearby Grand Central Airport, Stoxreiter received the go-ahead.

The Bell 430 was fitted with a “Spidertracks” device that was plugged into the craft’s cockpit and provided information on its location, altitude, speed etc, every two minutes, to those who tracked its progress.

The crash occurred around 1.35pm, just as the helicopter cleared the underpass of the main road leading to Winterton, which crosses the N3 highway.

A rose for one of the victims of the Netcare helicopter crash in Winterton. KZN. Picture: Debbie Yazbek

Eyewitnesses, including a farmer, noticed the helicopter spin uncontrollably, lose height at a rapid rate and how parts broke off.

“A red and white helicopter spinning around with objects being flung out,” was what the farmer saw.

It had been in flight for approximately 1.5 hours at that stage.

The accident site had a radius of 500 metres and was littered with debris from the helicopter, which was completely destroyed by the flames.

The site was divided into two sections on either side of the main road; the tail boom and the main wreckage sites.

Some of the items that were flung included airframe parts, which were severed by one or more of the helicopter’s main rotor blades that had spun out of control.

The horizontal stabiliser, rear engine’s cowling, nose cone, and airframe parts were some of the remains seen in the tail boom site, while the remaining parts were found in the main wreckage site.

Investigators noted that the aircraft had a valid “certificate of airworthiness”, the operator was also properly certified and the pilot had attained a commercial pilot licence in October and it was last validated in November 2020. The flight was in accordance with regulations.

Three dual hydraulic servos were removed from the gearbox and tested. Two were tested fully and functioned properly, but a full range of tests could not be done on the third servos because of the partial damage it had sustained.

The main rotor blade and parts of its control system were sent for testing and the results will be contained in the authority’s final report.

Due to the considerable damage done to the cockpit and cabin, which resulted in fatal injuries for the occupants, investigators declared the accident as “not survivable”.

Sacaa had no safety recommendations at this stage, but that could change as their investigators continued with their probe, read the report.

Dr Richard Friedland, Netcare’s chief executive, expressed appreciation for the efforts of Sacaa.

“We hope that in due course the investigation may be able to answer many painful questions. Our thoughts remain with the families and loved ones of our deceased colleagues at this difficult time as we are all still reeling from the tragedy; and are appreciative of Sacaa’s efforts to establish the cause and to make aviation safer,” he said.

A few days after the crash, the families of the deceased travelled in convoy to the accident site for a memorial service. Five white crosses were planted at the site where the five had died while responding to their respective calls to duty.

It was reported that Friedland told the gathering these were selfless individuals who were on a mercy mission “doing God’s holy and sacred work of saving lives”.

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