“Unfortunate incident” causes closure of section of SAAF Museum


What SA Air Force (SAAF) Museum boss, Lieutenant Colonel Mike O’Connor, has diplomatically called “an unfortunate incident” has seen the closure of part of the AFB Zwartkop military aviation history centre for the foreseeable future.

A sonar buoy was taken from inside the fuselage of the Museum’s lone Shackleton by a group using the Bokkie Park facility for a function.
“The person in charge of the group told us the buoy was taken out of the Shack by two youngsters who gained access after climbing onto the wing of the nearby Ventura. They apparently wanted to show it to the others in the group and put the buoy under the tail of the Ventura,” he said.

The buoy was retrieved and is now safely stowed aboard the Shackleton but the incident has left O’Connor with no option but to close Bokkie Park to visitors and groups for the foreseeable future.
“It might have been youthful exuberance but visitors to the Museum should know better than to climb on or into aircraft on display. We are now in the process of putting up signage at all static aircraft warning against either accessing or climbing onto aircraft.
“A security upgrade with strategically placed cameras to provide maximum coverage for all displays, both under cover and in the open, is also on the way.
“Once that is in place and operational the closure of the Bokkie Park area will be reviewed,” O’Connor said.

While this is the first incident of its kind since he took command, his predecessor Lieutenant Colonel Willie Nel had to put up with a number of attempts to remove gauges, dials and other pieces of instrumentation from aircraft and cockpits.

This saw more exhibits being placed under lock and key and O’Connor has had to further increase security on a number of exhibits by putting them behind state-of-the-art locks.

The Zwartkop museum and its two sub-museums, at AFB Port Elizabeth and AFB Ysterplaat, are the repository of South Africa’s military aviation history and enjoy a healthy reputation among enthusiasts internationally.

This was borne out by a group of Australian military aviation enthusiasts who visited Zwartkop some years ago. They told Nel it was one of the best they had been to and that included top Royal Air Force and US Air Force museums.

Making matters more difficult for O’Connor and his largely SAAF Reserve Force staff complement is that the Museum is not considered an “active” unit. This means the majority of funding comes via sponsorships, hosting of events and the Museum’s annual airshow.

The Museum is also actively supported by a Friends association.