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Stripping down 403 in Goma.

End of the runway for Hercules 403

Date: 20 November 2020

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It was, in retrospect, a somewhat ignominious end for a military aircraft that provided yeoman service over a 57-year period.

The plus is all salvageable and usable parts from C-130BZ Hercules (tail number 403) will go to keeping the remainder of the SA Air Force’s (SAAF) medium transport aircraft fleet airborne for at least the foreseeable future.

The 28 Squadron operated four-engined Lockheed Martin aircraft suffered structural and other damage during a January runway excursion at Goma airport in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The ageing high-wing transport was carrying 59 passengers, all from the United Nations’ MONUSCO peacekeeping mission, and a crew of eight when the left outer engine caught fire on landing, a spokesman for the UN mission in the DRC said after the incident. There were no serious injuries or fatalities.

As has become its wont, the SAAF was not particularly forthcoming with information on 403, which was standing almost forlorn and unwanted in the central African country until February. That’s when a SAAF forensics team, including a Lockheed Martin representative as the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), arrived in Goma to investigate. Their evidence, along with that of the flight crew, would be presented at the board of inquiry (BOI) convened to investigate and report on 403’s incident.

Replying to questions posed by defenceWeb in July, SAAF Corporate Staff Services said “the complete aircraft will be recovered to South Africa later this year”. There was no indication of when or how the aircraft would reach South Africa in disassembled form.

Again in response to defenceWeb questions, the air force in September said a technical team returned to South Africa from Goma after doing extensive component removal from 403.

What appears to be the final chapter – as far as public communication on 403 is concerned – came earlier this month in a three-paragraph statement from Brigadier General Hilton Smith, Director: Corporate Staff Services.

It reads: “The complete aircraft will be recovered and brought back to South Africa. The recovery team completed its activities and returned to South Africa.

“The return of removed parts/components has been commenced (sic) four weeks after the accident.

“The SAAF output with regard to serviceability and airworthiness have (sic) been met, every piece of material that can be certified airworthy will be used for float (sic) spares to sustain operational ability of the SAAF C-130BZ fleet.”

There has – as yet – been no announcement from the SAAF on the findings of the BOI established to investigate circumstances that led to the runway excursion and subsequent scrapping of the aircraft.

Dean Wingrin, military aviation enthusiast extraordinaire and webmaster of the Unofficial SAAF website said 403 was one of five Hercules C-130Bs which touched down at AFB Waterkloof in January 1963 after flying from the US via Ascension Island. Other Hercules delivered to the SAAF at that time were 401, 402, 404 and 405. All five were officially taken on strength by the air force on 19 January 1963. Two more Hercules – 406 and 407 – were delivered to 28 Squadron on 7 March the same year.

In 1997/8 the US donated a pair of ex-USAF C-130Bs (408 and 409) and three ex-USN C-130F Hercules aircraft as part of that country’s excess defence articles programme to the airborne service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF). Both ex-US C-130Bs and a C-130F were subsequently taken into service with the C-130F retired soon after.

403 had the distinction of being painted in a special colour scheme to commemorate 30 years of SAAF service and the 50th anniversary of 28 Squadron’s formation in 1993.

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