Preliminary investigations into the helicopter accident that claimed the life of local rap artist Sarona Motlhagodi (popularly known by her stage name Sasa Klaas) have left investigators with more questions than answers as conspiracy theories surrounding the crash continue to deepen.
Early findings according to the Directorate of Accident Investigations at the Ministry of Transport and Communications investigations suggest the damage to the aircraft passenger side may not be consistent with the fatal injuries suffered by the late musician, daughter to the Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs Anna Mokgethi.
While the damage on all the seats was not much different, the Directorate says, the structural damages around the doors were more severe on the pilot side as compared to the passenger side. The findings may raise questions about who was in charge at the time of the crash on the fateful evening of Friday 5, 2021. That information has remained a subject of speculation with authorities refusing to divulge the name of the pilot.
The closest the public has ever come to knowing the identity of the pilot was when the family of the deceased informed the media that she had “apparently” flown to the “CKGR” with one Leonard Matenje.
“Information on the passing of Sasa came to us as a family on Saturday 6th March 2021. The scanty information that we received was she had flown to the CKGR with a certain Leonard Matenje using a helicopter and that the helicopter crashed,” the late Motlhagodi’s uncle’s statement spoke volumes about the web of secrecy surrounding the crash.
The true number of occupants aboard the aircraft at the time of the accident also remains a subject of speculation as there was no flight plan filed by the pilot before take-off.
The Civil Aviation Authority Botswana were given conflicting statements about the number of passengers aboard the helicopter. Head of Public Relations & Communications at CAAB Modipe Nkwe says he received a call in the morning of Saturday March 6, 2021 from the Air Traffic Control (ATC) reporting there were four occupants in the aircraft.
“I received another call about 24 hours later on Sunday March 7, now saying there were only two passengers in the aircraft at the time of the crash,” Nkwe told Sunday Standard.
The CAAB and the ATC were completely oblivious to the flight until after the accident. The transponder in the helicopter, Sunday Standard has learnt, was also switched off meaning the aircraft was not detectable by the ATC or CAAB.A transponder is an avionic system located on board an aircraft that provides information about the aircraft identification and barometric altitude to the ATC system on the ground and to the traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) on other aircraft. The reply from the transponder is also used by radar on the ground to determine the location and altitude of the aircraft.
The information to the ground is provided in response to an interrogation by systems such as secondary surveillance radar. There is also an automatic dependent surveillance broadcast transponders that allow the aircraft to automatically broadcast to other aircraft. By switching off the transponder the pilot places the safety of their crew, other aircrafts , and those on the ground at a greater risk because there is no communication between themselves and the ATC to help determine the altitude or alert to any possible dangers while airborne. Also by failing to file a flight plan, the pilot flies at an altitude not recommended by the ATC in accordance with the CAAB Act 2011, putting others at risk.
The ATC recommends an altitude based on air traffic, terrain, or in case of prohibited air spaces. Had there been no survivor(s) from the aircraft or witnesses on the ground, CAAB’s Nkwe says it could have easily taken days before information about the crash is known because there was no communication between the craft and the ATC to enable for a speedy search and rescue mission.
Unconfirmed reports given to Sunday Standard suggest while there may have been two occupants when the helicopter left Matsieng Aerodrome, there were four at the time of the crash.
“What we have gathered is that the two initial occupants of the chopper from Matsieng arrived safely at their destination (Xumabee Game Ranch, Western Sand Veldt),” a source says.
“The helicopter took off again from the farm with four occupants for a scenic flight and that was when the crash happened.”
Investigations by the Director of Accident Investigations Olefile Moakofi indicate the helicopter was flying at an altitude of minus 1000 feet when it crashed, giving credence to the scenic flight reports.
“So far, the investigations have revealed the following that the helicopter had entered Xumabee Game Ranch when it collided with a tree and probably went out of control,” the Director told Sunday Standard. “It flew for some distance before contact with the ground. It then continued moving on ground for approximately 35 meters where the main instrument panel was found sheared off the aircraft. The indication by instruments is that it was descending in a left bank configuration. But it finally hit a shrub and capsized over, resting on its left side, facing the direction it had come from.”
Investigations into the crash are expected to take time according to Moakofi. “We are at the very early stage of our investigation,” he said. “Full air crash investigations globally can take anything up to 12 months, give or talk.” Once investigations are concluded the CAAB Act stipulates that the Director shall prepare a report of the investigation and submit it to the Minister.“
The Minister shall determine whether a report or a part of it shall be made public and shall cause such report to be published in such form and manner as he or she thinks fit. The sole objective of the investigation of an accident or incident shall be the prevention of accidents and incidents and not to apportion liability or blame. The report or any part of it shall not be admissible as evidence in any legal, disciplinary or other proceedings.”