SANDF recovers A109 air crash air crew remains


The South African National Defence Force has recovered the remains of the pilot and flight engineer of an AgustaWestland A109 light utility helicopter that crashed into the Woodstock Dam near Bergville in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg last Tuesday.


The remains of Lieutenant Simon Baloyi, 27, and Flight Sergeant Moné Zuidmeer, 32, were recovered on Saturday morning, the military says in a statement.


Zuidmeer`s body was recovered at approximately 8am after local inhabitants spotted his floating remains and alerted the Police.


The pilot`s remains were recovered at approximately 11.15am, about 300 metres from the site of the recovered wreckage, after being spotted by a pilot during an aerial search.  


Baloyi, who was from Majaneng in Hammanskraal joined the South African Air Force in 2002 and received his pilot wings in 2005. Lieutenant Baloyi is survived by his mother, Joyce Baloyi, two sisters, Masego and Anna, and a brother Lebogang.  


Zuidmeer was from Centurion in Pretoria and joined the SAAF in 1997. He received his Flight Engineer Wings in 2005, completed his Flight Engineer Course in 2006 and received his Silver Flight Engineer Wings in 2008. He is survived by his mother, Stella, his father Sakkie, who himself is a former helicopter pilot of the SAAF and his sister Zonia.


A passenger, Captain Bongani Mdluli, 34, from 17 Squadron, based at Swartkop in Pretoria was also aboard the aircraft.


His body was recovered from the dam`s depths on Thursday by SA Navy and police divers. The helicopter`s mangled wreckage was also raised from the dam`s floor, where it was stuck in thick mud.


The Italian-designed A109 has served the SAAF for just over three year. The first of 30 aircraft was delivered to the SAAF on October 19, 2005. The rotorcraft, acquired under Project Flange, cost R2.4 billion, according to Treasury figures.


The aircraft, #4022, took part in Saturday`s flypast marking President Jacob Zuma`s inauguration and was one of the last to be delivered to the air force.


Although the cause of the accident is still unknown and a Board of Inquiry has been convened to investigate, the Pretoria News reports the helicopter was seen trailing smoke and flames from its tail rotor at the time of the crash.


The aircraft was in formation with two other A109 en route from Swartkop air base in Pretoria to Dragon Peak Park in the Bergville area to take part in a scheduled week long mountain training exercise.


“It is believed that the multi-million rand helicopter, whose cruising speed is 285km/h, was travelling at nearly full power above the dam when it crashed,” the Pretoria News adds, saying the formation was flying “nap-of-the-earth” (following contours) at the time.


Editor`s note: The editor by chance photographed the rotorcraft on the final assembly line at Denel Aviation during a media visit on January 15 last year.