A forensics team arrived in Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) this week to start the laborious task of investigating a damaged SA Air Force (SAAF) C-130BZ Hercules for clues to the reason for its runway excursion earlier this month.
No-one was injured when the 56-year-old, four-engined military transport left the runway after landing at the eastern DRC city airport, damaging the undercarriage, wing and at least one of its Allison engines.
Department of Defence (DoD) head of communication Siphiwe Dlamini told defenceWeb the South African forensic team, comprising senior SAAF members and a representative from original equipment manufacturer (OEM) Lockheed Martin, arrived in Goma this week.
“They would have been on site earlier but there were certain UN processes that had to be completed first,” Dlamini said, adding that expectations were a forensic report would be available “in four weeks or so”.
This will, along with evidence from as yet unnamed people, be presented to the board of inquiry into the incident.
The damaged aircraft was moved from where it finished up after the runway excursion to a hangar housing SAAF personnel and aircraft at the airport.
“There is no chance of it being tampered with or having parts stolen or illegally removed,” Dlamini said adding he “did not think there was any chance of recovering the aircraft”.
Retired SAAF pilots, after seeing photos of the damaged C-130BZ (tail number 403), are in agreement there is not much chance the aircraft will ever fly again.
“Best option is to take whatever is usable and bring it back to 28 Squadron at AFB Waterkloof. Once here those parts can be used to keep the remaining SAAF Hercs going,” a former Squadron member said.
African Defence Review Director Darren Olivier said the incident was a “big blow” for the SAAF. “Even if this aircraft is repairable, I doubt the SAAF will be able to afford it on their meagre budget, especially with the difficulty of replacing an outer wing section in an austere location like Goma.”
The Goma incident is the first serious one involving the SAAF’s C-130BZs in over fifty years of operations. “This hull loss will have serious implications for SAAF logistic capability. There are another seven airframes with only two or three airworthy at any one time,” Dean Wingrin, webmaster of the unofficial SAAF website and defenceWeb correspondent, said.
Dlamini gave no indication of when the board on inquiry was expected to complete its work. While the SAAF generally does not make public the outcome of accident investigations and boards inquiry, it does happen. An Interim report on the Drakensberg crash of a C-47TP in 2012 which killed 11 was made available to family members of those of who died at the request of Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. She said at the time it would help them find closure.