All five people on board a South African Air Force A109 Light Utility Helicopter died when their aircraft crashed in the Kruger National Park yesterday evening.
According to Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga, SANDF Director Corporate Communications, the helicopter was on a scheduled aerial patrol of the Kruger National Park as part of the Operation Rhino anti-rhino poaching operation.
The helicopter went down at around 19:00, killing all on board. It is not yet clear what caused the crash, but an investigation into the incident has been launched.
“The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Ngqakula, the Chief of the SANDF, General Solly Shoke and the Chief of the SA Air Force, Lieutenant General Zimpande Msimang express their heartfelt condolences to the families, loved ones and friends of the deceased members,” the South African National Defence Force said in a statement.
Three of the South African Air Force’s 30 AgustaWestland A109s have been involved in crashes. A May 2009 crash into Woodstock Dam that killed all three crewmembers on board was deemed to have resulted from pilot error while two hard landings in November and December 2010 resulted in the type being briefly grounded. The 2010 incidents were due to tail rotor failure and a broken swash plate control rod. Last year the Air Force said that all A109 problems had subsequently been identified and rectified and the aircraft were flying normally.
Earlier this year, two BK-117 helicopters from 15 Squadron’s C Flight were known to be providing aerial surveillance capabilities as part of Operation Rhino.
The A109 crash is the latest in a string of incidents to hit the South African National Defence Force. On December 5, 2012, all eleven people on board an Air Force C-47TP Turbo Dakota were killed when their aircraft crashed in the Drakensberg in bad weather in the worst non-combat crash in 50 years. Last weekend 13 soldiers were killed in a firefight with Central African Republic rebels and 27 injured.