A South African Air Force (SAAF) Cessna C208 Caravan crash-landed near the Kei River mouth area of the Eastern Cape over the weekend. The aircraft, of 41 Squadron, from Pretoria, was participating in the air service’s annual Exercise Winter Solstice at the time.
Unconfirmed reports state that the aircraft “tumbled” about three times whilst attempting a down-slope landing. The pilot is reported to have injured her hand, but the other occupants on board were uninjured, the unofficial SAAF website, www.saairforce.co.za, reports. It is not know how many people were aboard the aircraft at the time of the crash. An Oryx helicopter was afterwards dispatched to load the Caravan onto a trailer for transportation.
Military spokeswoman Brigadier General Marthie Visser said the incident took place at about lunch time on Saturday. She told the East London-based Daily Dispatch newspaper it was not yet clear what the cause of the accident was, but it would be investigated by an SAAF board of inquiry.
“At this stage we don’t have much detail,” she said, adding that the pilot and passengers involved would receive trauma counselling. Visser said the victims were airlifted to an East London hospital by helicopter, but she was unable to say which hospital, comment on their injuries, or say how many people were involved.
A media release last week advised that the SAAF is currently conducting at their annual force preparation exercise to verify their combat readiness. “These deployments are focused on the needs as currently experienced during deployments in support of African Union initiatives on the continent. This exercise is taking place over period 14 to 31 July 2011,” the statement said.
“This is an annual exercise with the main aim of training and evaluating all spheres and capabilities within the SAAF. The Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal has been identified as the ‘Theatre of Operations’ to execute Exercise Winter Solstice. The area has been selected in terms of its unique terrain and challenges it poses to deploy forces and [it] therefore presents an excellent training opportunity in difficult terrain. The exercise consists mainly of Red and Blue forces, war gaming a real-time scenario of friendly and enemy forces of neighbouring countries, to evaluate comprehensive SAAF operational capabilities.”
The statement continues the SAAF’s objectives for the exercise are:
· To evaluate the SAAF’s deployability;
· To enhance and evaluate the SAAF’s comprehensive defence operational capabilities [sic];
· To develop a common understanding of military interoperability and foster mutual trust, respect and co-operation in the SAAF;
· To evaluate and upgrade operational readiness, means and methods; and
· To evaluate co-operation and networking between stakeholders and civil aviation authorities and partners like ATNS [Air Traffic Navigation Service], ACSA [Airports Company SA] and the General Aviation [community].
Some 570 SAAF personnel are deployed in the two provinces. “Friendly forces” aircraft are deployed at Bulembo airport at Bhisho near East London, while the “enemy forces” are at King Shaka International Airport, Margate Airfield and AFB Durban. Both have a similar mix of BAE Systems Mk120 Hawk lead-in fighter trainers, Caravans, AgustaWestland A109 light utility helicopters, Denel Oryx medium utility helicopters and Denel Rooivalk attack helicopters. Both sides are also supported by Tactical Mobile Radars, and Mobile Ground Signal Intelligence Systems and communication equipment “deployed … according to the dynamic development and requirements of the scenario of the exercise.”