Monday, December 11, 2023

Living on a wing and a prayer

Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi escaped death by a whisker at least twice in two weeks from the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) aircraft that crashed two months ago killing three crew members on board.

Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information that the tragic CASA 21-300 (OJ2) aircraft which the vice president flew on a number of occasions was a flying coffin and had been grounded two weeks earlier with Masisi on board.

Masisi was aboard the flight and due to fly from Tsabong to Gaborone in the aircraft which had defective weather radar; the flight was however aborted following expert warning from the Department of Meteorological Services.

Preliminary findings by an accident board of enquiry headed by the BDF Director of Air Arm Engineering Colonel Simba Phakedi and Lieutenant Colonel Denis Hiri has established that there was foul weather around the Thebephatswa area on the day of the fatal crash and that the plane’s weather radar was not working.

Indications are that the plane may also have had mechanical problems because examination of the wreckage revealed that the engine on the port (left side) had not ingested dust, suggesting that it went off mid-air. It also emerged that the plane crew had switched off the secondary radar (IFF transponder) which enables the plane to receive and transmit radio signals.

On the morning that the plane was to fly the vice president, it went off the radar and could not be located. When the team trying to locate the plane phoned Lt Col TT Mophonkolo from the BDF Air Arm, he revealed that the lead pilot had omitted to file a flight plan.

Flight plans are documents filed by a pilot or flight dispatcher with the Civil Aviation Authority  prior to departure which indicate the plane’s planned route or flight path. Flight plan format is specified in the ICAO Doc 4444. They generally include basic information such as departure and arrival points, estimated time en route, alternate airports in case of bad weather, type of flight (whether instrument flight rules [IFR] or visual flight rules [VFR]), the pilot’s information, number of people on board and information about the aircraft itself.

The enquiry also found that the Civil Aviation Authority plane finder play back – an app for locating planes ÔÇô does not have any images of the plane on the day of the crash.

The enquiry has also established that there was communication breakdown between the air traffic Controller at Thebephatswa Air base and the air traffic controller at Sir Seretse Khama airport. The plane wreckage was found four nautical miles from the threshold of its take off.

The accident board of Enquiry also constitutes an army Lieutenant who is a pilot, an army captain who is BDF Air Arm flight safety officers and a crew from CASA in Spain.


Read this week's paper