Dakota crash victims honoured

The C-47TP Dakota transport aircraft of 35 Squadron was on a routine shuttle run from AFB Waterkloof near Pretoria to Mthatha in the Eastern Cape when it encountered severe weather conditions on 5 December. The wreckage of the aircraft was found the next morning, having crashed on a mountain top near Giants Castle in the Drakensburg mountains. All eleven members of the airforce aboard were killed.

Four of the crew were from 35 Squadron, based at AFB Ysterplaat in the Cape. They were Maj KC Misrole (pilot), Capt ZM Smith (pilot), Sgt E Boes (Flight Engineer) and Cpl L Mofokeng (Loadmaster). Two trainee loadmasters from 44 Squadron (Sgts JM Mamobolo and BK Baloyi) as well as five passengers (Sgt L sobantu, Cpl NW Khomo, Cpl A Matlaila, Cpl MJ Mthombeni and L/Cpl NK Aphane) were also honoured.

The service, which commenced on 12/12/12 at 12h00, was preceded by a “Missing Man” formation flown by the Silver Falcon aerobatic team. The Silver Falcons have a close affinity with 35 Squadron as that squadron provides logistic support to the team. It was only in September this year that Dakota serial 6840, the crash aircraft, was painted in the colours of the Silver Falcons and named “Gooney Bird”.

After a welcome by Lt Col G van der Merwe, Officer Commanding, 35 squadron, the almost 600 assembled family and guests were led in prayer and a hymn by the Base Chaplain, Ds M Smit.

Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, paid tribute to the crew and noted how shattered she was when she heard of the news of the crash.

“Any tragedy of this sad and devastating” Mapisa-Nqakula said, “but for us at the SANDF, this tragedy has taken away a group of young soldiers at a time when we are encouraging the rejuvenation of our force with younger members, particularly in the area of scares skills such as the SAAF.”

Mapisa-Nqakula continued that she shared, as a mother, in the grief felt by the families, particularly so close to the festive season. Having been briefed on the accident scene by Lt Gen Zimpande Msimang, Chief of the SAAF, shortly after his return from the accident site, Mapisa-Nqakula told the family that her “heart goes to the mothers, the children and spouses of the eleven members who lost their lives.”

Referring to the loss, Mapisa-Nqakula noted that “they served our nation with loyalty and dedication to the very end” and that she was “proud to honour them and declare them patriotic heroes whose example should be emulated by current and future generations of our military.”

Mapisa-Nqakula closed her tribute by acknowledging the outpouring of public sympathy and support and “as Government we want to acknowledge these gestures of kindness and goodwill.”

The Chaplain General of the SANDF, Brig Gen Monwabisi Jamangile, then delivered his message, ending in two rousing cries of “We will remember them.”

The service then continued with a hymn sung by the 35 Squadron Choir, together with a further prayer, a hymn and benediction. The SA Army Band provided the musical accompaniment.

Family, squadron colleagues, the Chief of the Airforce and others then laid flowers in remembrance.

The next-of-kin will be taken to the accident site at Giants Castle on Monday 17 December so that they can pay their last respects.

A Board of Inquiry has been convened and in a departure from tradition, Mapisa-Nqakula stated that “the results of the investigation will be made public, as soon as is possible after the investigation has been completed.”

This accident was the single largest loss of life in a SAAF (non-operational) accident since all 13 crewmembers of a Shackleton maritime patrol aircraft were killed when it crashed in bad weather in the Stettynsberg mountains near Cape Town on 8 August 1963. This aircraft was also operated by 35 Squadron.

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