A South African Navy Operational Diving Team is currently deployed at Woodstock Dam near Bergville in the Drakensberg to recover the remains of three aircrew who are presumed dead after an Air Force Agusta A109 light utility helicopter crashed into the water around noon yesterday.
The helicopter, from 17 Squadron temporarily based at Swartkop airfield, Pretoria, was on its way to Dragon Peaks Park for a week-long training exercise with two other helicopters.
Defence ministry spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi says by 2.30pm the divers had not yet located the bodies of the pilot, co-pilot or flight engineer.
The Italian-designed A109 has served the SAAF for just over three year. The first of 30 aircraft was delivered to the SAAF on October 19, 2005. The rotorcraft, acquired under Project Flange, cost R2.4 billion, according to Treasury figures.
The cause of the accident is still unknown and a Board of Inquiry has been convened to investigate.
Police are reported saying that shortly before the crash smoke was seen pouring from the tail rotor area.
The Cape Argus reports the crash is believed to have occurred in a deep section of the dam.
A police diver – also on the scene – told the paper they were “going all out to recover the bodies, but what is making it difficult is the size of the search area, which is between 200 and 300 square metres; the extremely cold water temperatures; the zero visibility; and the depth at which we are having to search.”