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Heli crash: Captain to be a father

Date: 2 April 2013

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The following is a rough translation of an article that was published in the Beeld newspaper:

The captain that died in a helicopter crash in the Kruger National Park on Saturday night would have been a father for the first time in two months time.

Captain Jakes van Rensburg of  5 Special Forces Regiment in Phalaborwa and his wife, Lize-Marie, had all sorts of plans for the baby. Now the boy will only know his dad from a photo. Lize-Marie was yesterday comforted by friends.

Shocked colleagues of the five victims who perished, all military members, were supported by a chaplain in the park on Sunday. Army psychologists were flown in to the park on Sunday for a special session.

It appears the helicopter's crew helped flew a wounded rhino poacher to hospital on Sunday.

The airforce members of the Agusta 109 helicopter, from 15 Squadron in Durba, would only have worked there for four days. They arrived at the park last Wednesday and would have left again on Sunday.

According to their colleagues Captain Phil Chabalala (pilot) and Sgt. GP Ruiters (flight engineer) vhad ery little experience regarding park conditions. Ruiters had only qualified as a flight engineer two weeks ago.

In the run-up to the accident, poachers were noticed in the east of the park on Thursday. The helicopter and a group of soldiers responded and were deployed against the poachers at Houtbosch Ridge, north of Satara. A poacher was wounded and taken to hospital by helicopter.

They then landed at the Sand River base to take on fuel. They picked up Van Rensburg and Sgt. Paul Shongela Ndishishi (also Special Forces) and would then leave for the night to Houtbosch Rand.

According to one of their colleagues, Chabalala and the base were in radio contact with each other. Because it was dark, the base turned on a vehicle's lights at the landing site.

Chabalala was about to land when he apparently decided to circle and try again. He flew forward about 1 km when the helicopter fell.

The rangers were on the scene within minutes and the military shortly thereafter. The helicopter summersaulted for approximately 200 m and broke into pieces.

The army confirmed yesterday the names of the deceased, and expressed sympathy with the relatives.

Meanwhile the fight against rhino poachers continues.

It was a tragedy when the Air Force helicopter crashed Saturday night in the Kruger National Park and all five occupants died, but soldiers involved in the fight against rhino poachers must not be discouraged.

So said Edna Molewa, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, yesterday.

Of the 188 rhinos killed this year, 135 were from the park. 425 rhinos were paoched last year and the park was amongst the worst of the victims. Molewa said it was a sad day and expressed condolences to the deceased's families.

She also paid tribute to the soldiers who put their lives on the line in the fight against the poachers.


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