New questions on deputy president’s near crash


The Democratic Alliance says new information available to it indicates that a charter flight carrying South Africa’s deputy president and two deputy ministers that made a forced landing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) may not have been fit to fly.

Party deputy defence spokesman James Lorimer says a number of questions remain unanswered about “why a plane was chartered in the first place, about why that particular plane was chartered and about the route that was flown.

He adds these questions either did not arise or were not fully answered when the subject was raised unexpectedly at a meeting of the Defence Portfolio Committee last week.

An aircraft carrying deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, deputy international relations and cooperation minister Sue van der Merwe as well as deputy defence minister Thabang Makwetla made what was described as an emergency landing at Gbadolite, an old, now abandoned airport dating to the Mobuto Sese Seko era, on the night of August 31 while flying from Libya to SA.

The aircraft had been scheduled to land at refuel in Bangui in the Central African Republic but could not land due to cloud cover. It then diverted to Gbadolite and circled the dark airport while using its wing lights to find a runway. On landing, one of the rear wheels burst.

The disused airport is guarded by DRC troops and UN peacekeepers. After landing, they surrounded the plane. Assistance was rendered once the aircraft`s bon fides had been established, reports add.                   

Lorimer says the SA Air Force`s 21 Squadron which is tasked with flying VIPs has a number of executive jets at its disposal.

At the top end is the Boeing Business Jet, the presidential plane.

“Minister Sisulu told the Portfolio Committee this was not available to fly deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe to Libya because it was still being serviced after another flight.

“But the SAAF also has a Falcon 900 and two Falcon 50s which would have been at least as good, if not better than the charter plane that was eventually chosen,”Lorimer says.

“The charter plane that was chosen was a DC-9. This is an old aircraft with a reputation for being heavy on fuel and specifications that indicate it would probably need to refuel twice during the trip from Tripoli to Pretoria. The SAAF`s Falcon jets all have better ranges than the DC-9.

“These facts alone raise important questions, but additional information makes the need for answers all the more pressing,” the DA MP says.

“Aviation insiders report modifications to the DC-9 to extend its range meant the flight was undertaken with no working fuel gauge. If this is correct, there is no way this flight should have taken place.

“If this is true it would explain the inability of the charter flight to fly anywhere else than Gbadolite in the DRC when landing at Bangui proved impossible.

“At the Portfolio Committee meeting Deputy Defence Minister Thabang Makwetla indicated that when landing at Bangui proved impossible the plane was routed to Gbadolite by Bangui air control.

“This is probably a mistake as the plane should have filed an alternative destination as part of its flight plan. This then raises questions as to why a flight plan was filed with Gbadolite as an alternative destination when it had no tower and no lights, eventually necessitating the plane to land using its own wing lights and at considerable risk.”

Lorimer says he has written to the SA Civil Aviation Authority “to request the pertinent documents” and will formally ask the CAA to launch a full investigation.

“The circumstances surrounding this flight seem very strange. It is clear the Deputy President of South Africa was put in harm`s way. There is information showing he was sent on the wrong plane, on the wrong route. Those who planned this flight should be held accountable.”