Eleven people died yesterday when a South African Air Force C-47TP Turbo Dakota transport aircraft crashed during severe weather in a remote area of the eastern Drakensberg mountains.
The 35 Squadron aircraft, flying from Air Force Base Waterkloof, Pretoria, at about 7:45 am to Mthatha Airport, Eastern Cape, went missing around 9:45 am local time, the Department of Defence said.
Unconfirmed reports state that the aircraft last communicated with Air Traffic Control when above Giants Castle in the Drakensburg mountains, stating that they were at 11,000 feet and flying in Instrument Meteorological Conditions due to the bad visibility. The aircraft never arrived at Mthatha Airport.
“After the expected time of arrival and no communication from the aircraft, the SAAF activated a search and rescue mission,” the Department of Defence said. An Oryx helicopter was tasked to search for the missing aircraft, but had to abandon the search due to the very bad weather in the area.
“At first light this morning the rescue team continued their effort and located the wreckage in the Drakensberg Mountains. On board the aircraft was a crew of six and five passengers and it was confirmed that there are no survivors.”
The South African National Defence Force will release the names of the deceased when all the next of kin have been informed. A board of inquiry has been convened to investigate the circumstances surrounding the cause of the accident.
The Department of Defence said the aircraft was “on an official tasking”. There was speculation that the aircraft was carrying medical personnel to attend to former President Nelson Mandela, but a spokesman denied this. It was also confirmed to defenceWeb that the aircraft was not carrying medical personnel for Mandela.
Military doctors responsible for the well-being of the 94-year-old Mandela often fly to the same Eastern Cape airport before proceeding to Mandela’s home in Qunu, the rural village where the anti-apartheid leader was born.
“The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the Chief of the SANDF, General Solly Shoke, and the Chief of the Air Force Lt Gen Zimpande Msimang would like to convey their sincere and deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the deceased,” the Department of Defence said.
Just under a month ago, on 7 November, another C-47TP Dakota of 35 Squadron was involved in a landing accident at Mthatha Airport, when it bounced on landing and left the runway. Damage included a torn-off main undercarriage, bent propeller and damaged engine and wing. Fortunately, none of the 16 passengers on board was injured.