SAAF Oryx riddled by small arms fire in the DRC; two crew injured


A South African Air Force (SAAF) Oryx medium transport helicopter was hit dozens of times by small arms fire while carrying out a casualty evacuation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Friday morning, with two crew injured.

SAAF sources indicate the aircraft (1247) from 22 Squadron was hit over 40 times while carrying out a medical evacuation, resulting in injury to the commander as well as a medic in the cabin. It is not clear who was firing at the helicopter, although it is suspected that M23 rebels were responsible.

The Oryx was badly damaged, with multiple rounds going through the cabin, cockpit, and main rotor blades, and causing damage to the hydraulic system.

The incident apparently occurred about 25 km north of Goma, and the crew managed to fly the aircraft directly to a Level 3 hospital (a fully equipped and staffed multidisciplinary UN field hospital).

The South African National Defence Force said in a statement the pilot and commander of the aircraft (Major Jannie Augustyn) suffered a gunshot wound on his finger and the Ops Medic on the flight suffered a chest injury but is in a stable condition. The other crew on board were Major Harvey Strauss and flight engineer Sergeant Divan Adams.

“The rest of the passengers onboard suffered no injuries and the helicopter landed safely in
Goma. The Oryx under United Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO)
was conducting casualty evacuation in Rwindi and was enroute to Goma,” the statement added.

This is not the first time SAAF helicopters operating with the United Nations mission in the DRC have been hit by small arms fire. The most tragic incident occurred on 5 February 2023 when Sergeant Vusumuzi Mabena was killed by a sniper’s bullet while flying an Oryx (1231/UN821) on a routine mission. The pilot, Captain Mathew Allan, was injured by the same bullet, but recovered.

A Rooivalk was hit in the tail by small arms fire on one occasion, and at least two Oryx have been hit by small arms fire in the DRC over the last decade.

Darren Olivier, Director at African Defence Review, after the February 2023 incident noted that SAAF planners have been warning about the risk of aircraft being attacked for a long time, especially as budget cuts and withdrawals have meant that MONUSCO transport helicopters usually no longer have Rooivalk or Mi-24 escorts providing cover.

“SA Air Force Oryxes with MONUSCO in the DRC have been hit by small arms fire on a number of occasions, it was only a matter of time before there were casualties. Yet not enough was done to prevent it and keep aircrews safe. It’s unacceptable that MONUSCO transport helicopters are having to operate in hostile areas without sufficient top cover from supporting assets. Especially with M23 so resurgent and well-equipped,” he stated a year ago.