Police pilot wounded in shootout with gang


A police pilot was wounded yesterday morning when his helicopter drew the fire of armed robbers south of Johannesburg.

Police spokeswoman Director Sally de Beer says it is the first time in the history of the South African Police Service Air Wing that a pilot has been wounded by criminals. Ground fire is however a common hazard to helicopters in conflict zones.

The pilot, Senior Superintendent Rob Siegrist, 40, while wounded in the leg, managed to fly himself to Milpark hospital and is due to be discharged today. He “is in good spirits and the injuries are not serious.”

De Beer says former SA Air Force pilot Siegrist, flying an Eurocopter BO105, was assisting ground elements in following a White Chrysler Voyager. “The suspects in the vehicle abandoned the Voyager and apparently some of them hijacked a black Toyota Yaris.

“The suspects were armed and began shooting at ground force members and at the police helicopter.Police returned fire,” she says.

Inspector Piet Maritz, 47, in the aircraft with Siegrist at the time, was not wounded.

De Beer says although Siegrist was wounded and ground fire punctured a fuel tank as well as the helicopter`s floor, holed the windscreen, hit a rotor blade and knocked out radio communication, he still “managed to fly and land safely at Milpark Hospital.”

Divisional Commissioner for visible policing, Arno Lamoer, under whose command the SAPS Air Wing resorts, has commended Siegrist “for his courageous efforts and attribute his keeping a level head through the shoot-out and flying to safety despite his injuries.”

“I would like to make it quite clear to the criminal element that the South African Police Service will take a very hard and tough stance against criminals who fire on our members and who have the audacity to shoot at our aircraft. Our crew members are trained to defend their pilots and aircraft and will not hesitate to do so”, said Lamoer.

The robbers were later arrested.