Hercules C-130BZ (registration 403) is currently a coronavirus victim and has not been moved from where it unceremoniously stopped after a runway excursion in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) early in January.
The official word from SA Air Force (SAAF) director: corporate services Brigadier General Hilton Smith this week was “the aircraft is still on the runway” and “has not been categorised”.
This is in contrast to what South Africa’s large and generally well informed military aviation community is saying. The aircraft is said to be “Cat Five”, the widely used abbreviation for category five (write-off).
This is supported by independent information that SAAF technical personnel were “just about ready to leave for Goma” to start salvaging usable parts from the 57-year-old aircraft. Their departure, as with the majority of other air travel, was put on indefinite hold by the coronavirus lockdown.
“We await lifting or easing of the national lockdown regulations to commence with the recovery task,” Smith said.
He confirmed the establishment of a board of inquiry into the “cause of the incident” but did not provide information on how it is proceeding or when a preliminary report is expected. Part of the board’s work will be to sift through and analyse data collected by a forensics team which was in Goma weeks after the “runway excursion”. The team comprised senior SAAF officers and a representative from original equipment manufacturer (OEM) Lockheed Martin.
The forensics team would have been in Goma earlier were it not for “certain UN processes that had to be completed” Department of Defence (DoD) head of communications Siphiwe Dlamini told defenceWeb at the end of January.
The Goma incident is the first serious one involving SAAF C-130BZs in over fifty years of operations.
“This hull loss will have serious implications for SAAF logistic capability. There are seven other airframes with only two or three airworthy at any one time,” Dean Wingrin, webmaster of the unofficial SAAF website and defenceWeb correspondent, said.
Agreeing with him is African Defence Review director Darren Olivier who termed the incident “a big blow”.
“Even if the aircraft is repairable, I doubt the SAAF will be able to afford it on their meagre budget, especially with the difficulty of replacing an outer wing section in an austere location like Goma.”