Photo: Social media

Captain Jaco Mol, South African National Parks (SANParks) Chief Pilot, on Sunday night posted a message to the SANParks Kruger National Park group on Facebook, addressing rumours about the SANParks helicopter accident on Saturday morning.

The accident, which damaged the Airbus AS350B-3+ (Squirrel) helicopter, occurred during take-off from Cape Town International Airport. SANParks said the pilot – who was flying solo –  suffered only minor injuries and received medical attention.

The pilot was not named, but it did not take long for Facebook trolls to start a rumour that it was Captain David Simelane, who was just last month celebrated as SANParks’ first Black Game Capture Pilot. The fact that Captain Simelane works in the Kruger National Park, and the accident occurred in Cape Town didn’t deter the racists.

Captain Mol said on Sunday night that “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.”

Photo: SANParks

Pilot who crashed in Cape Town was experienced ex-airforce pilot

Mol said that in fact, the pilot who 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.”

Mol said he had been following the hundreds of posts on social media about the accident with “both a sense of sadness and dismay as well as extreme gratitude.”

Blatant racial attacks on SANParks

He said: “It is humbling to see the unwavering support, well wishes and sense of unity in the conservation cause displayed by the majority of posters. But it also saddens me to read the misinformed posts, the false rumours and the blatant racial attacks directed not only towards our esteemed colleagues but against our organisation as a whole.

“This helicopter accident has been very unfortunate and will obviously have a major impact on our continued operations but we are extremely grateful that there were no serious injuries or lives lost.

“I can assure you that all the SANParks pilots are appointed on merit and we have a very high minimum standard for all our aircrew. Each and every one of our pilots have in excess of 3,500 flight hours, years of operational experience and impeccable safety records.
Each and every one of our pilots undergoes regular recurrency training and flight tests.”

He pointed out that “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.”

SANParks’ aircraft are safe

In the statement on Facebook, Captain Mol said: “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.

“They are the best of the best in what they do, I am proud to call them colleagues and friends, and I for one will fly with each and every one of them any day.

“Thank you so much for all of your support, well wishes and prayers during this time.
Onwards and Upwards.”

Captain Mol’s post was met with overwhelming support from Kruger Park fans and followers, with many praising SANParks for their incredible Air Wing division.

The green and yellow chopper, involved in the incident, was part of a new SANParks security initiative to assist with aerial patrols in the Table Mountain National Park and surrounding areas (including the Rhodes Memorial, Hout Bay and Tokai areas).