Three SA Air Force (SAAF) helicopters deployed to assist with emergency firefighting and rescue operations in parts of the Western Cape had by sunset on Sunday delivered close to 720 000 litres of water onto fires raging in the George/Knysna/Plettenberg Bay area.
The Oryx medium transport helicopters were supported by a BK-117 from 15 Squadron Charlie Flight based at AFB Port Elizabeth which is flying command and control for the Oryx carrying Bambi buckets capable of carrying just over two tons of water. The rotary-winged aircraft from 15 Squadron (AFB Durban, 22 Squadron (AFB Ysterplaat) and AFB Overberg and all arrived in George, where a temporary headquarters and mobile air operations team (MAOT) has been set up for the duration of the deployment.
Within hours of arriving in the southern Cape town on Thursday, one of the Oryxes was up and working. It delivered seven Bambi buckets onto fires before bad light saw it having to stop flying.
By the end of the “working day” on Sunday, the three Oryxes had logged just on 34 flying hours in two days and dropped the contents of 359 Bambi buckets onto fires burning in the Knysna, George and Plettenberg Bay areas. They also flew, where possible, rescue missions, including Buffels Bay where fires forced residents onto the beach, said Lieutenant Colonel Piet Paxton, Staff Officer, Operational Communication at the SANDF’s Joint Operations Division.
SAAF personnel in the area report 408 houses have been burnt down in Knysna with over 200 informal dwellings also razed. SAAF personnel have confirmed the loss of 20 houses in Plettenberg Bay to fire.
“Flying on Saturday was curtailed by winds in excess of 35 knots, but early indications are today (Monday) the wind will have dropped and all four aircraft will be working again,” Paxton said.
Paxton said there was “as yet” no indication of when air force assets would be withdrawn from the Garden Route. The military was called in to assist with firefighting and rescue operations by the Western Cape provincial government through the provincial joint operations control centre last week when municipal and provincial agencies could not cope.