This is the pilot who will fly South Africans home from coronavirus-hit Wuhan

11 March 2020 - 16:59 By Naledi Shange

One of SAA's most seasoned pilots is in charge of the flight to Wuhan to bring South Africans back from the coronavirus-hit Chinese province.

Captain Vusi Khumalo is the commander of the Airbus A340-600 Series flight.

“He is a chief pilot at SAA. He has been with the airline since 1994,"  the airline's spokesperson Tlali Tlali said.

The flight, a military operation but manned by SAA cabin crew, left SA on Tuesday night and is expected to leave China on Friday.

SAA chief pilot Captain Vusi Khumalo will bring back the South Africans from China.
SAA chief pilot Captain Vusi Khumalo will bring back the South Africans from China.
Image: Supplied

“The staff on the charter volunteered their service and participation and the necessary counselling and education on the virus and the risks associated with it was communicated to staff,” said Tlali.

The staff and crew received two days of training before the departure.

“The identity of the employees on the mission cannot be disclosed without their consent, save for the commander of the flight [Khumalo],” Tlali said.

In 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa boarded an SAA flight manned by Khumalo. Ramaphosa’s office had taken to Twitter to share snaps of Ramaphosa aboard the plane.

Tlali said while the mission was being carried out by SAA staff, it remained a military operation.

“SAA is taking directives from the military insofar as the operation is concerned. Notwithstanding this, South African Airways will still observe all the medical, safety and security protocols as prescribed by the Civil Aviation Authority of SA,” said Tlali.

More than 130 South Africans were expected to be repatriated from China.

The South African embassy in China on Wednesday issued communication via the social networking site WeChat to South Africans who were expected to be repatriated back to the country.

The message stated that the repatriation would occur on Friday, departing at 9pm.

The notice issued via WeChat to the South Africans who wanted to be brought back home from Wuhan, China.
The notice issued via WeChat to the South Africans who wanted to be brought back home from Wuhan, China.
Image: Supplied

Upon their return, those repatriated and the cabin crew staff will remain in quarantine for 21 days at an isolated location until their results state that none of them is infected with the virus.


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