SAAF’s Charlie Flight to the rescue


The lone SA Air Force (SAAF) presence in Eastern Cape – 15 Squadron’s Charlie Flight – showed its rescue capabilities when called on by the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI).

Based at Air Force Station (AFS) Port Elizabeth, the flight is the sole operator of BK 117 rotorcraft in the airborne service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF). Officially the MBB-Kawasaki BK 117A, the helicopters came into the SAAF inventory from apartheid era homeland states (Transkei, Bophuthatswana and Venda) when the SANDF came into being in 1994.

The squadron corporate communication NCO, Corporal Siphesihle Gqirhana, reports a call-out to rescue a fisherman from a motor fishing vessel, 40 nautical miles south of Cape Recife on Wednesday 30 August.

“The patient was reported to be unresponsive. Pilot, Captain Ross Cameron, and flight engineer, Flight Sergeant Letladi Mahlakwana, were tasked to respond.

“The helicopter hoisted an NSRI swimmer and emergency medical services (EMS) rescue paramedic onto the vessel to treat the fisherman while the vessel motored into the Port of Gqeberha. The patient was transported to hospital with the medics from the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) in Port Elizabeth also at the scene. The patient suffered serious head injuries but was stabilised,” the two-striper reported.

NSRI Gqeberha duty coxswain Kevin Warren said duty crew were alerted to the incident following reports from the MRCC (Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre) requesting an airborne sea rescue swimmer and Eastern Cape Government Health EMS rescue paramedic to accompany the BK 117 on the rescue mission.

The NSRI rescue craft Rescue 6 Alpha was launched as a backup resource while the BK-117 helicopter took off accompanied by two NSRI rescue swimmers and an EMS rescue paramedic, who were airlifted onto the vessel.

The NSRI said the patient remains in hospital in Port Elizabeth for medical treatment.