Monday, January 17, 2022

Aircraft crashes in Botswana raising concern

“I think this needs to be pursued further. People must wake up. I would have expected the Office of the President to have long issued a public international statement consoling the bereaved families,” said a concerned citizen Wednesday night upon learning that another aircraft carrying tourists had crashed in the Okavango Delta.

He had earlier commented that “today there was another accident in the Okavango. Fortunately no one was killed this time”, but was worried that the relevant authorities were not assuring Batswana and the world at large that everything was being done to ensure the airworthiness and safety of aircraft conveying tourists in the Okavango swamps.

The concerned citizen feared that given the importance of the tourism sector to Botswana’s economy, however isolated these incidents may be deemed, they had the potential to negatively affect the industry and thereby deprive the country of the revenue that accrues from the tourism sector.

Buttressing his fears, he added that “all we hear from the Civil Aviation Authority is the confirmation of the accidents. You know we are very casual in this country. Worse still Tebelelo Seretse has brought business people from the US who might have made plans to visit the delta or Kasane. The timing could not have been worse”, he said.

Seretse is Botswana ambassador to the United States and last week she was in the country leading a delegation of American business people to forge links and explore business opportunities in the country.

In response, I informed the concerned citizen that according to an earlier Botswana Television news bulletin, Seretse had indicated that the itinerary of the American business delegation included visiting Jwaneng Mine as well as the Okavango Delta.

In an interview with Sunday Standard, the Botswana Tourism Organization (BTO) spokesperson, Keitumetse Setlang, said they were greatly saddened by the loss of lives and extended their condolences to the families of the bereaved.

On the impact of the two incidents (all happening in one week) on tourist arrivals in the country, she said BTO would only be able to speak with some level of certainty after all the necessary assessments have been done after a period of time.

“From the reviews we have done with the industry there has not been any news on cancellations on the already made bookings. Such incidents are not a common occurrence in Botswana. However, one would think this incident may lead to some level of discomfort for some travelers which we will continue to monitor and manage. A strategy towards restoring customer confidence is being implemented through our trade network. Operators are on full alert and are monitoring the situation and maintaining constant communication with the wide global trade network and customers,” said Setlang.

The same sentiments were echoed by Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) acting chief executive, Lily Rakorong, that there were no cancellations so far arising from the incidents, adding that they were in constant communication with their travel networks all over the world as well as receiving update reports from the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

The Minister of Transport and Communications, Frank Ramsden, on Friday held a press conference and said during the past week the Okavango Delta has experienced two aircraft accidents, the first of which claimed eight lives and the second only inflicted minor injuries.

“On behalf of my government and the people of Botswana we extend our sincere condolences to families of the deceased. I would also like to extend my condolences to the Botswana Defence Force for the accident that occurred yesterday. The BDF obviously falls outside our jurisdiction due to security reasons,” said the minister.

On the 14th A Cessna 208 aircraft operated by Moremi Air carrying 11 passengers and a pilot destined from Pom Pom from the Xakanaxa airstrip crashed after takeoff, killing eight passengers, including the pilot. Four people (two Batswana and two French nationals) survived.

In another incident, a Delta Air Charter Cessna carrying five passengers and one crew overran the runway on takeoff at Delta airstrip. All five passengers survived with minor injuries.

The minister said his ministry is carrying out investigations on both incidents in accordance with the law and the International Civil Aviation Organisation recommended practice.

Meanwhile, Moremi Air chief executive officer, Sue Smart, has also extended condolences to the families of the deceased.

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