Tributes have poured in for South African firefighting pilot, Nico Heyns (65), who lost his life in the line of duty on Tuesday in Vermaaklikheid, in the southern Cape. Early on Thursday evening, Working on Fire posted the following moving video tribute to a man who was loved and respected by all who knew and worked with him:
Working on Fire wishes to extend our heartfelt condolences to the family of Nico Heyns as well as colleagues and the firefighting fraternity. May His Soul Rest In Peace.
Posted by Working on Fire on Wednesday, October 24, 2018
At least eight structures were burnt in the Vermaaklikheid fire which claimed Heyns’ life when his helicopter went down on Tuesday morning.
Working on Fire said:
Working on Fire is deeply saddened by the loss of a great firefighting pilot. Nico Heyns was a respected, highly dedicated pilot and long-standing friend of the firefighting fraternity. He was well-known for going above and beyond in the line of duty. He helped fight countless fires during Working on Fire operations which included the 2016 Cape St Francis and 2017 Knysna fires. During the course of his career he assisted in the saving of countless lives, properties and the environment. He will be sorely missed.
We are all deeply saddened by the death of one of our pilots, Nico Heyns. Not only was he a colleague, but part of a very close-knit firefighting family.
To us, Nico was a legend that saved many lives and property and was a dedicated firefighter that never gave up until the job was done. He will be remembered by those who knew and worked alongside him as a humorous, well-read and intelligent man. He was also extremely hospitable and enjoyed hosting colleagues on his farm during work visits whom he treated like royalty.
Our heartfelt condolences go out to Nico’s family and friends. He will be sorely missed.
While it wasn’t clear who the pilot was, Martin Fourie, NSRI Witsand station commander, said:
At one point, while protecting a house of the edge of Vermaaklikheid, we ran out of water and were looking for an escape route when one of the Working on Fire Helicopters flew in and drenched us and the surrounding fire making it possible for us to escape safely.
Condolences are conveyed to the family, friends and colleagues of the helicopter pilot who sadly died on duty while combating the fire.
Western Cape photographer Christopher Scott who took the photo that has been widely shared of Nico said:
A few years back a fire that threatened St Francis Bay and Cape St Francis, the farming community and many others was put to rest by a combined effort of #workingonfire, the local fire department, residents and other aerial firefighting crew. Even the South African Air Force had a hand in it. But before they arrived the local fire department was overwhelmed and asked for help… and in came #workingonfire.. #nicoheyns – the helicopter pilot working tirelessly receiving refreshments from locals as he battled strong winds, dousing water over the wind fuelling flames.. he flew more hours than he should have.. but at the time he was the only one, at one point, to save local location Seawinds…
So it is with great sadness that i learnt of his passing while on duty. Truly a hero to so many. Condolences to his family and to his crew.. he will no doubt be sorely missed.
Stayci Anderson, whose family have owned a farm in the area for centuries, told News24:
These helicopter pilots literally put themselves in danger for people they don’t know… Our farm wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him…
Stayci and her sister have set up drop-off points in Table View for anyone wanting to donate to those who lost everything in the fire. Details here.
Fortunately, the only thing Stayci’s family lost in the fire was a river cruiser boat.
She told News24: “We want to honour [Nico Heyns] by renaming the boat after him. In my eyes he is a hero. You can rebuild a boat but you can’t rebuild a life.”