A third South African Air Force (SAAF) Oryx helicopter deployed under the UN flag has come under fire in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), nine weeks after the second incident and 11 months after the first.
“An Oryx came under unprovoked gunfire from unidentified ground attackers while conducting routine aerial patrol,” SA National Defence Force (SANDF) spokesman Brigadier Xolani Mabanga said.
“The helicopter suffered minor structural damage after being hit by a small arm projectile (sic),” he said, adding no-one aboard was injured and the medium transport helicopter continued its flight before landing safely at the SANDF base in Goma.
In the first incident this year another Oryx was fired on, also by unknown attackers, while on a routine flight with the then Deputy Force Commander of MONUSCO aboard. The attack happened near Erengeti in North Kivu and the helicopter reportedly suffered “little damage”.
As with the second incident no-one was injured and “little damage” was reportedly done to the aircraft.
The first time a SAAF helicopter deployed to the DRC was subjected to enemy fire was in May last year when “several shots” were reportedly fired in the direction of an Oryx flying between Beni and Buria. One bullet hit a fuel tank causing a minor leak which did not prevent the pilot from flying out of the danger zone and landing safely at Mavivi airport near Beni.
In August last year another SAAF Oryx damaged its nose wheel ahead of take-off from Goma.
The helicopters are manned on rotation by SAAF personnel from 15, 17, 19 and 22 squadrons.
Since the end of October 2013, the South African Air Force has deployed three Rooivalk combat helicopters to the DRC, and these have also been shot at by rebel groups in the restive country. However, the aircraft have not sustained serious damage. Apparently the worst that has happened was a small arms calibre bullet passing through the horizontal stabiliser of one aircraft. Rooivalks have flown over 1 100 hours in the DRC since deployed three years ago.