Search and rescue officials say they have found the two Piaggio P. 166S Albatross aircraft that disappeared Sunday in the Escarpment area on a flight from an airshow in Tzaneen to Rand Airport in Germiston. The wrecks were found this morning in the Mamotswiri Peak mountain region. All 13 crew and passengers aboard, including noted aviation photographer Frans Dely, were killed.
The officials told Eyewitness News they did not suspect there was a mid-air collision. A police and South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) investigation is underway at the site. SACAA in a statement said it “would seem that the two aircraft crashed against a mountain and both aircraft
sustained post impact fire.”
Johnny Smit, the head of aeronautical search and rescue of the South African Search and Rescue (SASAR) organisation, which operates under the aegis of the Department of Transport , said: “About half-past seven, the weather allowed us to get airborne with helicopters into the primary search area and we found the wrecks very close to each other, in the mountains. We then hoisted people down to the wreck to establish if there were any survivors. Unfortunately… no survivors. From then on the accident scene was handed over to the SA Police Service, to retrieve the bodies out of the wrecks on the one side and then for the SACAA to take over the investigation to (find) the reason for the accident.
The gull-winged Piaggio P.166 was also used by the Italian Air Force and Coast Guard. The P.166S-variant built for SA was built with a longer nose, entry doors on either side of the fuselage for the pilots and enlarged wingtip tanks each containing 320 litres, allowing for eight to nine hours flying time. The first Piaggio P.166S, construction number 417, SAAF registration 881 (pictured), made its maiden flight in 1968, was certified in February 1969 and delivered to the SAAF from October that year. More than 20 of the twin-engine pusher-type aircraft were shipped to South Africa and served with 27 Squadron in the inshore patrol role. The type was retired in 1993. 27 Squadron was then disbanded.
The Albatross served with a minimum of incidents, including one hard landing and one crash, with aircraft 894 disappearing near Dassen Island in May 1976.