Two of South Africa’s most promising young cyclists were among the five men who died in a plane crash in the Free State on Tuesday, the manager of South Africa’s national cycling team said on Wednesday.
Cyclists Jaco de Witt and Jaco Odendaal, along with three others, were on board an Aerostar light aircraft that left Wonderboom aerodrome at about 4.30pm on Tuesday. It was due to land at Harrismith at 5.30pm.
When it did not land as expected, a search was begun, which continued through the night.
Free State police spokesperson Superintendent Sam Sesing confirmed on Wednesday that the wreckage of the missing plane was found on a deserted farm, Ergernis, in the Cornelia district in the eastern Free State.
”All five passengers died,” said Sesing, who described the scene as horrible. ”Wreckage is spread over a radius of 1km.”
Sesing said the Civil Aviation Authority will investigate the circumstances of the accident.
He added that a heavy rainstorm occurred in the area at about the suspected time of the crash.
Although their names have not been released by the police, the cyclists’ manager, Tony Harding, said Odendaal’s father, Koos, had telephoned him to break the news.
Odendaal, who rode professionally for the Microsoft team, had represented South Africa abroad a number of times, including at competitions in China, Malaysia and Italy.
Until recently, De Witt rode professionally for the Barloworld team.
”They both had bright futures and were just all-round good guys,” said a distraught Harding. ”They were both under 23 and they always called me pa [dad], so it felt like they were my own children.”
It is understood that De Witt, who lived in Harrismith, had a pilot’s licence, although it is not known who was at the controls, Harding said.
Harrismith businessman Theunis Bekker said on Wednesday that his brother, Gerhard Bekker, an architect, had been on the plane.
Gerhard’s business partner, Vos Vosloo, said on Wednesday that the group had been on its way back to Harrismith after visiting a construction site at Thohoyandou in Limpopo.
”They stopped over in Pretoria to refuel,” Vosloo said. — Sapa