Helicopter crashes into Umgeni River in KwaZulu-Natal
A helicopter crashed on the banks of the Umgeni River in KwaZulu-Natal on Monday, 3 May 2021. At approximately 08h30 reports were received of a helicopter that had reported to have gone down on the banks of the Umgeni River, adjacent to the N2 national highway near Parlock. Emergency personnel were immediately dispatched and on arrival, it was found that a Robinson 22 helicopter was fully submerged under the water of the Umgeni River. A rescue operation was launched by members of the South African Police, eThekwini Fire and Rescue Services and several other search and rescue units. Both pilot and co-pilot were found entrapped in the aircraft and sadly were pronounced deceased on the arrival of paramedics.
Helicopter instructor at Starlite Aviation Academy Derek Fitzgerald, age 23 and trainee pilot Richard Morgan, age 31, died in the crash. Eyewitnesses claimed a bird had struck the two-seater helicopter and caused it to spiral out of control and crash near the N2 Umgeni River bridge. Eyewitnesses said the helicopter crashed into a sandbank and reeds, in the river below the N2 bridge.
Durban Metro Police at the scene said vagrants, who lived under the bridge, stole the propellers and other parts of the wreckage. They were on their way to the scrapyard, when tow truck drivers and bystanders stopped them. Rescue teams used a rope system and boats to try and gain access to the patients in the thick swamp. Emer-G-Med paramedic’s spokesperson Kyle Van Reenen said the helicopter was partially submerged in the water and reeds.
Both the pilot and co-pilot were found entrapped in the aircraft. “It is speculated that the cause of the crash is that of a bird strike, however, the aviation authorities will conduct the necessary investigations accordingly,” Van Reenen said.
An eyewitness Priyan Naidu said he heard a screeching noise and, when he looked up, he saw a propeller fall off a low-flying helicopter. “We saw the propeller and a bird fall into the water. These birds catch fish here daily and are quite huge. My instincts kicked in to help the injured. Together with my work colleague Simon van Joe, we got into a boat and paddled to the crash site. We walked on sand banks in the river and through the reeds. Our hasty arrival saved most of the possessions of the deceased. Drug addicts and scrap collectors, living in the vicinity, converged on the scene and began removing items from the crash site,” said Naidu.
He said that, at the crash, they first came across one person and checked for his pulse. “We found his personal belongings as well. We were not aware of the second person until paramedics arrived. We are lucky the helicopter did not land on the freeway,” he said.
Another eyewitness, Nathanael Moodley, said he saw the helicopter spiralling out of control in mid-air, before it nose-dived into the river.
Fisherman Sthembiso Gumede said parts of the helicopter landed a few metres from him in the water. “I heard the noise and then saw the helicopter rolling in the air and falling down. I was shocked. I am lucky it did not land on me,” Gumede said.
SACAA spokesperson Kabelo Ledwaba said a preliminary report would be issued within 30 days of the accident. He added that the completion of the investigation would be marked by the release of a final accident report. He said, once compiled, the report might also contain safety recommendations, aimed at improving the levels of aviation safety and the prevention of a similar accident.
Starlite Aviation Group spokesperson Klara Fouche confirmed that an instructor and a student died in the crash and declined to comment further on the matter.
Source: Daily News