Mercy Flight Death & Big Swamp Man Syndrome

So you’re picked up on a mercy flight somewhere in West Africa.  Lets say its Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso.  The mode of transport is a Beechcraft King Air, early nineties model.  You’re not really aware of the situation because you’re lying on a  stretcher and unconscious.  The emergency team snaps down  the locks over the stretcher legs inside the fuselage of the medium sized twin engine aeroplane.  Then its cleared for take-off and everyone is moving quickly because after all, its an emergency and someone is very ill.

A few hours later you’re dead.

Along with the entire crew on board – a total of seven.   Because your mercy flight collided with a commercial airliner.

This is what is reported to have happened near the Senegalese Capital, Dakar, on Saturday 5th September 2015.   Senegalair HS125 Medevac from Ouagadougou to Dakar is reported to have crashed after a collision with an Equatorial Guinea airline operated by CEIBA, flight number CEL071.  The scary thing is the Boeing 737-800 was carrying 100 passengers.   The contact is reported to have occurred at 18h12 min GMT and about 300 NM from Dakar.

The Boeing landed at Malabo in Equatorial Guinea and the passengers were then ferried to Benin with the crew reporting a near miss.

It’s now known that the near miss was not a miss but a very real hit.   Because the wing of the Boeing had signs of a collision.   After that incident, the Senegalair Medevac aircraft continued flying out over the ocean and eventually plunged into the sea.  There was no communication from the King Air crew, indicating that either comms were down, or the Boeing struck the Medevac aircraft (type to be clarified) close to the cockpit incapacitating the crew.  There are a few other obvious reasons for the comms silence,  but the two noted above are the most likely.

The combined speeds involved could have been above Mach 1, giving neither crew much time to do anything even if they’d seen each other.  The Boeing was likely using Airway UA601 eastwards.  The HS125 mercy flight was flying west.  Being close to dusk made the situation worse because the crew on board HS125 were likely to have been staring pretty much into a setting sun.  On board the mercy flight  were three members of the crew (an Algerian and two Congolese), a Senegalese doctor and two nurses as well as a French national.  He was the patient.

It was a fairly murky Saturday early evening with storms reported in the area.  Yet one thing is abundantly clear.

With the ever increasing number of flights of all kinds across Africa, surely its time to take a closer look  radar and Aircraft Traffic Control?  While its too early to say what caused this accident,  its obvious that a lack of radar is one of the big issues hampering safety and has been much commented on by pilots for years.

Africa is a dark continent for aviation.

There’s not much in the way of radar coverage nor VOR beacons,  many of the airports have no GNSS or GPS approaches mapped,  and many ATC and aviation authorities are, let’s say, a little hampered by capacity.

As Africa ramps up growth the reality is the middle class is expecting to get around the continent.  And when you have a few dollars for travel,  you automatically gravitate towards aviation.  I mean, who wants to take the chance of pirates on both West and East Africa?  No ships please.  Roads are generally a mess.  Railway lines are like hens’ teeth.  So flying is the only option.

This has created a challenge for civil aviation authorities across Africa.  With many tied directly to their national strategies,  its become rife with conflict.  Post colonial aviation bureaucrats are forever trying to stymie each other based on nation-state pressure.  Kenya vs Ethiopia,  Ghana vs Nigeria vs Senegal,  South Africa vs everyone.   Games are played.  Positions are taken.

To be specific, primary radar is available in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Kenya. Flights between SA and Europe rely on position reports from aircraft to aircraft.  While SAA, Kenya Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines aircraft have installed collision avoidance systems due to the lack of control,  smaller airlines have not.

IATA has developed a special  Inflight Broadcast Procedure or  IFBP for Africa.   All traffic flying at Flight Level25 or 25000 feet and above need to send blind reports on routing, level, position and estimates on the single standard VHF frequency 126.9.

So its up to pilots to monitor the airspace and coordinate between each other when it comes to conflicts on separation.  Because ATC services are unlikely, this is the prime operating procedure by most airlines now.

But things could be so much better if the authorities decided to work together to plug the gaps.

As these aviation-clueless nationalists play big man in the swamp games, customers are in real danger.


A quick search – the official website,  is packed with malware. - not a healthy place right now. – not a healthy place right now.

It’s other site,  is about to be deregistered.

Deregistering website.
Deregistering website.




ZS-CLT King Air 90 down at Lanseria

It was pouring on Monday morning 3rd February.  As I drove to Lanseria to drop off two colleagues we noticed that parts of the road were being washed away in large chunks.  It’s not often that bits of tar drift past your vehicle as you wait in rush hour traffic.  I had initially wanted the driver to do this job but then thought why not head  out to Lanseria just after dawn and go do some work in the Flight Sim or spend two hours studying – or something?

But this is not a happy nor ditzy story – it ends in death.  While we made our way slowly to the airport at 7.20am emergency vehicles desperately wound their way through the bits of tar, the raging stream and at the corner of River and Malibongwe road, taxi drivers who’d decided to shut down the highway.   Who knows if that ultimately cost anyone inside ZS-CLT?

For as we turned into the airport road, I noticed that emergency  vehicles were halted on Alpha taxiway close to Execujet’s hangar.  Oh no, not an incident.  Then my phone rang and my wife asked if I was aware of the accident at Lanseria.

It’s always a shock to see parts of a plane lying so close to major airport.  And the day! The sodden clouds were hanging close to minimas.  The roads were awash and immediately thoughts were – was this an aquaplaning incident?

Some of the heaviest rain in months fell in a few hours in Johannesburg on the early morning of 3rd February.
Some of the heaviest rain in months fell in a few hours in Johannesburg on the early morning of 3rd February.

That’s called jumping to conclusions.  I dropped off my colleagues then drove to a small slip road which is alongside Runway 07 and walked the kilometer along the perimeter fence to where I saw the wreckage of ZS-CLT.

At this point,  let’s get a few things straight.  My day job is a business tv news editor and I know a few of the King Air operators at Lanseria.  While it was raining and cool, I was sweating before beginning the long walk in the mud alongside the fence.  What had led to this catastrophe for the crew of ZS-CLT?   Was it someone I knew?  What the hell!!

It’s not the first time I’d seen a plane down alongside Lanseria.  There has been an incident or two and that’s the same for most busy airports world wide.  Undercarriages give way, wind shear causes tips, tail-draggers spin, bits of aircraft dislodge and land on the runway, and at times at Lanseria, foxes sprint across the threshold.

The foxes don’t happen anymore as far as I’m aware, not since the double layer FAA approved fence. But people still land oddly with a bounce and sometimes depart the runway  and that’s an incident.   But this was a catastrophe for the crew and their families.

The smell of fuel hung heavy  as I approved the remains.  I stood at the fence a few metres away and it was obvious that the aircraft had burst into flames upon crashing.  Three people had died – reportedly two crew and a passenger.  ZS-CLT had apparently taken off from Rand airport not far away to the south, and was landing in the middle of a heavy Gauteng downpour.

Accident 3rd February 2014. So sorry for the crew and their loved ones.
Accident 3rd February 2014. So sorry for the crew and their loved ones.

I’m a beginner pilot.  Just wet behind the wings.  So I said a small prayer while the rain splashed down on the burnt out remains and made no judgement.  Then the police hunkered down on the hill above yelled at me to leave the scene or I’d be arrested.  I stumbled back to the road in a kind of shock, such a large turbo-prop plane had turned so quickly into a mangled tiny pile of bent aluminium.

What of the aviators?  What happened?  Why did the plane appear to strike the north of the embankment?  Yet they had been travelling from the south and the let down and break-cloud involves using the beacon to the west.  Had they been sent to HBV to hold?  That was to the north.  Just so many questions and because I fly from Lanseria and am aware of the dangers – was looking for answers.

It slid down the embankment from the right and stopped facing up the steep incline.
It slid down the embankment from the right and stopped facing up the steep incline.

Flying is not a game we play to show just how clever we are.  It’s nothing but an extremely dangerous mix of machine, human and the environment.  There is just so much chaos going on in the combination of human and environment.  And occasionally, its the machine.

For a short clip of the slope and impact zone