Gripen scrambled in attempted air rescue


A SA Air Force (SAAF) Gripen fighter jet was scrambled in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent a small business jet from crashing in the Swellendam area yesterday.

The Swedish fighter is on 2 Squadron’s inventory but is currently based at AFB Overberg (2 Squadron is based at Makhado).

The Aircraft Rescue Co-ordination Centre (ARCC) at OR Tambo International Airport informed the SAAF of lost communications with the Eclipse 500 business jet en route to Cape Town from Lanseria International Airport. Radio contact was lost around 10:15 am while the aircraft was over the Riviersonderend area, cruising at an altitude of 11.45 km. The Air Force Command Post (AFCP) and air force bases Overberg and Ysterplaat were also put on alert with search and rescue standby activated for a 35 Squadron C-47TP and a 22 Squadron Oryx.

At AFB Overberg a Gripen was scrambled and airborne 25 minutes after the initial call from the ARCC. The Gripen intercepted the Eclipse and the pilot attempted to establish communications with the pilot of the six-seater business jet, the only person aboard. This was unsuccessful and all the Gripen pilot could do was follow the aircraft, which went into a spiral and crashed about 8 km south of the N2 between Caledon and Swellendam, some 40 minutes after radio contact was lost.
“The aircraft disintegrated on impact and no post impact fire was observed,” a SAAF statement said.

The pilot and owner of the Eclipse was 57 year old businessman Kobus Dicks of KwaZulu-Natal.

Air Traffic Navigational Service spokesperson Percy Morokane confirmed the crash and said the Department of Transport’s Air Crash Investigative Unit would investigate the incident.

The Test Flight and Development Centre (TFDC) at Air Force Base Overberg uses the Gripen for developmental test and evaluation work regarding South African avionics, weapons and systems. It is believed the Gripen stationed there has been used to test the Denel Dynamics A-Darter fifth generation short range infrared guided air-to-air missile.