The Civil Aviation Authority has named its three staff who were killed when a flight inspection aircraft crashed into a mountainside near George in the southern Cape on Thursday.
The authority’s CEO, Poppy Khoza, said the three were Captain Thabiso Collins Tolo, 49; First Officer Tebogo Caroline Lekalakala, 33; and Flight Inspector Gugu Comfort Mguni, 36.
CAA staff were “devastated by the loss of their beloved colleagues,” Khoza told a news conference in Midrand on Friday.
“This is a difficult time for us; usually it is the CAA, as the regulator, that has to speak on accidents that occur in the industry, not one of our own,” she said.
“This is the first time that such an accident has taken place involving an aircraft that belongs to the CAA.”
Khoza said the 33-year-old Cessna Citation took off from the George Airport at 10.40 am on Thursday to conduct calibration of the airport’s navigation systems.
Shortly after take-off, the air traffic control tower lost contact with the aircraft. “A search and rescue operation was immediately activated and ultimately the wreckage was located around 1.40 pm,” she said.
Officials from the CAA accident and incident investigation division had begun collecting evidence from the scene of the crash, and at this stage its cause was unknown, said Khoza.
“We call on everyone to avoid any speculation and to afford the investigating team the necessary time and space to conduct a thorough investigation,” said Khoza.
In December, the Sunday Times reported that the Cessna had been grounded the previous month after the cockpit filled with smoke twice in two days
It is not known when it was cleared to fly again, but Khoza said: “In accordance with applicable civil aviation regulations, and as dictated by the SA civil aviation regulations, regular maintenance was conducted on the aircraft.”
She said the three staff who died in the crash were “well-experienced and were among a handful of such specialized crew undertaking this work in the country and on the African continent”.
She added: “Captain Thabiso Tolo qualified in 2013 and had 4,959 hours of flying to his credit in total. He was the first black captain of our flight inspection unit. Before that, he was a manager within the CAA’s air safety operations division.
“He was also a pilot at SAA between 2004 and 2008 and was a testing standard officer at the CAA in 2004, and a pilot at the SA Air Force between 1989 and 2003.
“First Officer Tebogo Lekalakala had 1,050 hours of flying to her credit. She performed her last training at a flight safety simulator in San Antonio in the US.
“Lekalakala was a co-pilot and the first black lady to fly for the flight inspection unit in 2019. Prior to that, she was an air force pilot between 2006 and 2018.
“Flight Inspector Gugu Comfort Mguni had 1,300 flying hours to his credit. He conducted his last training at the Global Navigation Satellite System for Aviation, Eurocontrol, in Luxembourg.
“He became the first black flight inspector in 2013. Before he joined the CAA, he was a senior technician at SIA Solutions.”
Khoza said transport minister Fikile Mbalula had conveyed his condolences to the three victims’ families.
“The CAA family and the aviation industry are saddened by the passing of these greatly experienced colleagues who possessed very rare and important skills that ensure that our airports comply with the set international standards,” she said.
“We are offering both their families and staff members the much-needed support and counseling during this difficult time.”
Khoza said a preliminary report on the accident was expected in 30 days and would be followed by an interim report within 12 months if the final report had not been completed by then.
“The reports are public documents and therefore the families and the public will be informed of the outcomes,” she said.