Netcare 911 helicopter 'broke up in flight', preliminary probe finds
A preliminary investigation by the SA Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed the helicopter which crashed en route to KwaZulu-Natal last month killing Netcare 911 medics and its pilot broke apart in midair and the impact was “not survivable”.
The Bell 430 helicopter took off from Ultimate Heli heliport in Midrand, Gauteng, heading to Hillcrest Hospital in Pietermaritzburg on January 21. On board were a helicopter paramedic, two doctors and a theatre nurse and 12 bottles of oxygen.
“After approximately 1.5 hours in flight and cruising at 725ft [221m, above ground level], the helicopter started to spin uncontrollably, breaking up in flight while losing height rapidly. The helicopter impacted the ground and immediately post-impact fire erupted which destroyed the helicopter. All five occupants on board were fatally injured,” reads the report.
LISTEN | Witnesses describe the KZN helicopter crash that claimed 5 lives
The wreckage was scattered in a 500m radius at the scene of the crash in Winterton.
The report said eyewitnesses travelling on the N3 Highway as well as a farmer reported that the helicopter “suddenly started to spin around while losing height rapidly. The witnesses then saw what looked like helicopter parts breaking off before it crashed and burst into flames.
“The witness (farmer) stated that he saw a red and white helicopter spinning around with objects being flung out of the helicopter. The helicopter maintained a south-easterly direction but started to lose height rapidly. The loss of control continued until the helicopter impacted the ground and burst into flames just after flying over the main road underpass which crosses the N3 Highway.”
Objects flung from the helicopter included airframe parts severed by one or more of the helicopter’s main rotor blades while spinning out of control, as well as some airframe parts that broke off during the accident sequence.
The Bell 430 had been operating in Angola before being imported, in parts, and being reassembled in SA.
The Sunday Times reported that the crash claimed the lives of anaesthetist Dr Kgopotso Rudolph Mononyane, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Curnick Siyabonga (Sia) Mahlangu, and specialist theatre nurse Mpho Xaba, Netcare 911 advanced life-support paramedic Sinjin Joshua Farrance, and pilot Mark Stoxreiter, from National Airways Corporation.
The preliminary report was compiled based on information gathered during the ongoing investigation and may change as new evidence is uncovered.
The investigation continues.