One of the SA Air Force’s (SAAF) long-serving C-130BZs is currently in Lagos, Nigeria, preparing to bring home the remains of the last 11 South Africans who died when a building belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed in September.
The 28 Squadron aircraft left Air Force Base Waterkloof on Monday this week and is expected to return at 02h00 on Friday aftr spending time on the ground, Minister Jeff Radebe, leader of the Inter-Ministerial Tsk team on the Nigeria tragedy, said this week.
This is the second time the squadron has flown to Nigeria in connection with the building collapse.
In September another of the squadron’s workhorses was tasked with bringing home South Africans injured in the collapse. At the time Radebe said the flight was “the biggest humanitarian effort by the SAAF since the dawn of democracy”.
The aircraft flew a medical and rescue team including forensic and disaster management specialists from SA Military Health Services (SAMHS), SA Police Service and national disaster management and other law enforcement agencies to the Nigerian capital. Their mission, approved by SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Commander-in-Chief, President Jacob Zuma, was to repatriate South Africans caught in the collapse and re-unite them with family and friends.
The 25 injured South Africans who were brought home by the SAAF have all been discharged from hospital and reunited with their families, Radebe said.
This week’s flight will not have the same happy end but will nevertheless provide closure for the families of the dead.
“The mortal remains will be taken to the nearest government mortuaries after the aircraft has landed,” Radebe said.
The remains of the other 74 South Africans who died in the building collapse were flown to AFB Waterkloof aboard a chartered AN-124 in November.
The C-130BZ has been in service with the SAAF for more than 50 years and has logged hundreds of hours flying humanitarian and other missions. This includes delivering materiel and equipment to the Central African Republic in 2013, a tasking that saw 173 flying hours logged in 15 days. A 28 Squadron C-130BZ went all the way to the island of Malta to bring home South African diplomats who fled missions in North African countries during the 2012 Arab Spring uprising.