SANParks helicopter accident first in over a decade

Posted by Imogen Searra on 4 January 2021

A South African National Parks (SANParks) helicopter was badly damaged at Cape Town International Airport on January 2 after the pilot lost control during take off.

The aircraft is based in Cape Town to assist with aerial law enforcement and conservation management operations in the Table Mountain National Park and surrounding areas.

SANParks helicopter rolls during attempted take-off

A SANParks Airbus AS350B-3+ (Squirrel) helicopter was damaged after the pilot lost control during take off at Cape Town International Airport. Picture: Supplied

Chief SANParks pilot Jaco Mol took to the SANParks Kruger National Park social media group to condemn those who have been spreading unfounded, false rumours that have spread following the incident, as well as the racism that has ensued.

Mol wrote: ‘I’ve been following the hundreds of posts on social media regarding our unfortunate helicopter accident with both a sense of sadness and dismay as well as extreme gratitude.

‘It is humbling to see the unwavering support, well wishes and sense of unity in the conservation cause displayed by the majority of posters.

‘But it also saddens me to read the misinformed posts, the false rumors and the blatant racial attacks directed not only towards our esteemed colleagues but against our organisation as a whole.’

The helicopter was supposed to conduct aerial patrols in Table Mountain National Park.

The pilot, who has not been named to protect his identity, is an ex airforce pilot and is extremely experienced in flying around Table Mountain and its nearby areas conducting search and rescue and emergency medical charters, said Mol.

Mol explained that while the incident will impact operations, SANParks is relieved that there were no major injuries or death. This is also the first serious helicopter incident SANParks has experienced in over a decade.

He continued: ‘I can assure you that all the SANParks pilots are appointed on merit and we have a very high minimum standard for all our aircrew. Each and every one of our pilots have in excess of 3,500 flight hours, years of operational experience and impeccable safety records. Each and every one of our pilots undergoes regular recurrency training and flight tests.

‘The fact that this is the first serious helicopter accident SANParks has had in over 10 years and 20,000 flight hours in our dynamic and high risk flight environment is testament to the skills, experience and professionalism of all our aircrew.’

Mol said: ‘Accidents unfortunately does happen, but to blame any of our pilots, especially our newly appointed pilot, Mr Simelane for an accident that happened 2000 km from where he is flying daily to serve and protect our natural heritage is not only prejudiced but outright racism.

‘Mr Simelane is a highly respected and valued member of our team with many years experience and many 1000’s of flight hours to his credit.

Mol continued that the pilot involved in the crash is a respected member of the aviation ‘fraternity’.

‘Our Cape Town pilot that had the unfortunate accident is an extremely experienced ex-airforce pilot with many years experience in the Table Mountain and surrounding areas and abroad, flying search and rescue and emergency medical services helicopters. He has touched and saved many lives and is held in high esteem in the aviation faternity. To protect his privacy during this very difficult time for him and his family we will not disclose his name at this stage.

‘All our aircraft are meticulously maintained to the highest standards and no aircraft are flown within the National Parks if the aircraft is not 100% safe and serviceable. We will be assisting the authorities with the investigation to determine the cause of the accident to mitigate future risks and ensure continued safe operations.’

In conclusion, Mol asked that the crews, engineers and support personnel are given the respect they deserve.

‘These are the men and women that put everything on the line everyday, to protect and to serve not only our precious wildlife but ultimately you, the public and the guests to our National Parks. Their sacrifices, unwavering commitment and professionalism is what makes us great.

‘They are the best of the best in what they do, I am proud to call them colleagues and friends, and I for one will fly with each and every one of them any day.Thank you so much for all of your support, well wishes and prayers during this time. Onwards and Upwards.’

Picture: Facebook/ SANParks

 






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