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Agusta A109 wreckage.

Crash pilot almost failed

Date: 12 May 2013

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The following is a rough translation of an article that appeared in the Beeld newspaper.

The airforce pilot that crashed an Agusta helicopter in the Kruger National Park in March had a volatile history as a pilot.

Captain Phil Chabalala struggled to keep up during his basic flying training. His average scores were significantly lower than those of his class.

This information is what the the board of inquiry into the incident is studying.

The investigated and the wreckage of the helicopter will be held at the Swartkops Air Force Base.

Chabalala, Sgt. Gene Paul Ruiters (flight engineer), Captain Jakes van Rensburg, Sgt. Paul Shongela Ndishishi (both of 5th Special Forces Regiment) and L Cpl. Bheki Petros Cele (SA Military Health Service) were killed in the accident as they were with Operation Rhino.

The accident happened just after sunset when it is very dark before the moon rises. A pilot who is not accustomed to this area will struggle badly without a horizon reference.

The suspicion is that Chabalala, who arrived in the park two days earlier, became disoriented and flew into the ground.

According his student pilot record at the Central Flying School Langebaan, his general flying was average while he had shown little interest in instrument flying.

His navigation flying was well below standard and he received an extra chance to improve his points.

He still got his wings and started flying as a full-fledged pilot. He was reprimanded In 2007 was due to a negative office attitude when, as a co-pilot, he failed to prepare for a flight and did not show up for a flee.

According to an entry in his statement, he was a "nervous" pilot the following year, but admittedly performed better later in 2008.

He improvement a little in 2009, but was addressed as he did not know his aircraft and its operation well enough.

The following year he transferred from Oryx helicopters to the Agusta 109. He struggled with night flying at the helicopter flying school at AFB Bloemspruit.

He also struggled to do the helicopter fuel calculations and with flying on instruments. All these factors were in question on the day of the accident: Chabalala has just taken on fuel that would make the helicopter heavier, it was dark and would therefore had to rely on instruments to fly. Along with the extra fuel and the maximum number of passengers (three), the helicopter would respond differently than if it were empty with just one.

Chabalala's achievements in 2012 and this year was still uncertain, though he qualified as an Agusta-commander to fly with passengers. He had about 360 flying hours.

Despite numerous written and telephonic requests, the Air Force has not responded to inquiries about the issue.

Sources told Beeld that in view of Chabalala's history, it was likely that the victims would be successful if ty were to file a civil claim against the Air Force.


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