18 January 2006

South Africa: Navy divers search for crashed helicopter and pilot's body

The search for the body of a pilot and wreckage of a helicopter is to continue today after the craft "nose-dived and crashed" into the sea near Buffels Bay at Cape Point, yesterday.

The black Robinson 22 helicopter was flying with another helicopter and had aboard only the 40-year-old trainee pilot, whose name is being withheld as his family is yet to be notified.

The crash was about 800m off Cape Point at about 10.15am. Police and navy divers started searching at 1pm and continued until sunset without success. They were to resume their search this morning.

Sue Dalrymple was hiking in the Rooikrans mountain area when she witnessed the crash. "These two helicopters came around the corner, one behind the other. The one at the back appeared to lose height, then it nose-dived into the sea and went straight down."

Dalrymple had seen only "five bits of debris", which floated to the surface, and said the other aircraft had carried on flying as if unaware of the crash.

A friend who had been hiking with her, Lesley Skarzynski, said before the aircraft crashed it had "made a slight turn to the left. We weren't sure if it was part of the naval exercise that was happening further along the beach. It caused a lot of confusion," she said.

Desiré Barlow, who had been standing near the Cape Point restaurant, said she had also thought she was watching "some sort of a stunt".

"Just after they flew past us, I looked and the one just smacked into the water. There was no explosion, no smoke."

A Red Cross Air Mercy Service (AMS) helicopter and two Lima boats supplied by the navy attended the scene and by 12.45pm, station commander for the Simon's Town National Sea Rescue Institute, Darren Zimmerman, said all that had been recovered from the crash was "a small seat from the aircraft".

He could not confirm the cause of the accident and said the two helicopters were from a private company.

Ian Klopper, a medic on the AMS helicopter, said they had located an oil slick indicating a possible location of the wreck. However, police and navy divers entered the water at 1pm but were unable to find it.

A tourist's photograph of the crash sight straight after the accident, showed bubbles coming up from the wreck.

Starlite Aviation chief executive Barry Duss did not return Cape Times calls to confirm the helicopter was operated by his company.

Sue Fourie, who was on the beach in nearby Olifantsbos, said seven aircraft had been flying in the area since Monday afternoon, "most of them at an incredibly low height".

Source: www.capetimes.co.za


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