A C-130BZ Hercules transport aircraft of the South African Air Force (SAAF) crash landed at Goma airport in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Thursday.
The aircraft, from Air Force Base Waterkloof’s 28 Squadron, was transporting 59 passengers and eight crew members from the UN mission when its left engine caught fire upon landing, said Mathias Gillman, acting spokesperson for the UN MONUSCO mission.
“MONUSCO sent a rescue team that brought the fire under control and everyone was safely evacuated,” Gillman told The Associated Press.
Images posted on Twitter show one of the port engines on fire, with the blaze subsequently put out by firefighters. However, major damage was caused to the outer wing.
The aircraft was returning from the eastern Congo city of Beni, where it was providing logistical support to the South African National Defence Force contingent deployed in the region.
African Defence Review Director Darren Olivier said the incident is a “big blow” for the SAAF. “Even if this C-130BZ is repairable, I doubt they will be able to afford to repair it on their meagre budget, especially with the difficulty of replacing an outer wing section in an austere location like Goma.”
“The C-130BZ that crashed at Goma is confirmed as serial 403. The left wing is extensively damaged, and there was a fire on engine 1.
“Something else to keep in mind: This is part of the inherent risk of flying into some locations. Goma’s runway is narrow and there’s almost no safe runoff area to either side. If something goes wrong on landing there’s no space to recover and any runway excursion wrecks the aircraft.”
Olivier said that his impression after seeing the aircraft is that it “might have to be written off.”
Democratic Alliance (DA) Shadow Defence and Military Veterans Minister Kobus Marais said the SAAF this week lost its “only serviceable” C-130BZ.
“The aircraft is strategically important for the SA National Defence Force in terms of both land and maritime missions,” he said, adding 403, which was built in 1963, was “misused” to transport Cuban military engineers to their Caribbean island home last month.
“It is regrettable our only serviceable C-130BZ was not tasked to protect South Africans,” he said.
Just how dependent the South African military is on the Lockheed Martin turboprop medium transport came from Dean Wingrin, webmaster of the unofficial SAAF website and defenceWeb correspondent.
“The aircraft (403) was in Egypt mid-December, then Cuba in late December and now written off in the DRC in early January.”
The Department of Defence, in the form of its head of communications, Siphiwe Dlamini, indicated a board of inquiry will be convened to investigate the “circumstances surrounding the incident.”
Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said she applauds the crew of the aircraft after its “uncontrolled landing incident.”
“The Minister has expressed her gratitude for the expertise and professionalism of the crew under duress that ensured that lives are not lost during the uncontrolled landing incident that involved men and women of the South African National Defence Force who are serving the Republic and the Region with zeal and pride to ensure there is peace and stability in the continent.”
This is the first serious accident/incident involving the South African Air Force’s C-130BZs in over fifty years of operations. “This hull loss will have serious implications for SAAF logistic capability. Although there are another seven airframes, only two or three are airworthy at any one time,” notes Wingrin.