Monday, January 24, 2022

Device in chopper that crashed should have automatically sent distress signal to Cape Town

The peanut gallery, especially that on social media, is understandably obsessing over the salacious details surrounding the tragic death of a female musician in a helicopter crash. On the other hand, some aviation experts are deeply concerned about a troubling aviation-safety issue that goes as far back as 2014 when a Botswana Police Service (BPS) helicopter crashed.

“That is the real issue; mo go ntsintsi mo ga gore pilot e ne e kgweetsa ngwana wa ga mang ke ditontokwane hela [everything else about whose daughter the pilot had as his passenger is mindless snark],” says a veteran pilot who has been exposed to various generations of aviation technology over a decades-long flying career.

It has been alleged that the pilot didn’t immediately report the crash to the relevant authorities. It turns out that though that he didn’t even have to do that.

In terms of the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana rules and in accordance with International Civil Aviation Organization standards, all aircraft should be fitted with a device called emergency locator transmitter (ELT).

“When a plane crashes, the ELT is automatically activated through satellite and immediately sends information to a regional monitoring station,” says our pilot source, adding that such information relates to location of crash, aircraft registration and name of the aircraft’s owner.

“In the particular case of this incident, that information would have been sent to the regional monitoring station in Cape Town, which would have contacted Botswana’s civil aviation authorities, who in turn, should have activated a domestic search-and-rescue operation.”

Given that this was an emergency, all those communication channels should have been opened up within a matter of minutes.

“If that didn’t happen, then something is seriously wrong,” says the source, suggesting that the ELT, a pricey device that costs “no less than P30 000”, malfunctioned. If something is seriously wrong, it has been since 2014 when a Botswana Police Service helicopter crashed on April 20, 2014 near Maun. The ELT was not activated and the wreckage was found two days later. All three crew members had died upon this discovery. The ELT was not activated on July 6, 2017 when the plane of a student pilot from International Aviation Solutions, who was flying solo, crashed near Lentsweletau.

It was residents who had seen the plane crash, not the Cape Town regional monitoring station, that guided rescuers to the scene. Besides the Cape Town station, other planes should also have been able to receive the signal – which would have been sent over an international aeronautical emergency frequency – and render what assistance they could. They couldn’t because they didn’t receive the signal.

An aviation expert points a finger of blame at CAAB because, in discharge of its responsibilities, it is supposed to ensure that ELTs in all aircraft work.


Read this week's paper