A SANParks Airbus AS350B-3+ helicopter was badly damaged after the pilot lost control during take off from Cape Town International Airport on January 2. The pilot, who was flying alone, only suffered minor injuries and received medical attention. An investigation has since been launched.

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.

Since news of the accident broke, many have commented on social media. Some negative racial comments have upset SANPark officials. According to Chief SANParks pilot Jaco Mol, the commentary is unfounded.

“It is humbling to see the unwavering support, well wishes and sense of unity in the conservation cause displayed by the majority of posters,” Mol wrote on Facebook. “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.”

He assured readers that all SANParks pilots are appointed on merit and have a very high minimum standard for all aircrew.

“Each and every one of our pilots have in excess of 3,500 flight hours, years of operational experience and impeccable safety records.”

Mol adds that all SANParks pilots must undergo regular recurrence 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,” said Mol.

“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.

“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.

He concluded: “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.

“Please afford our crews, engineers and support personnel 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.”

Picture: Facebook / SANParks

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