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Crashing helicopter barely misses kids’ playground

Four air-crew members have survived a South African Air Force helicopter crash outside the Bergview Engen One-Stop in Harrismith on Friday morning, emergency services said.

”Two people suffered minor injuries and the other two are fine,” fire chief Mohlahoana Mokwena said.

The two have been taken to a nearby hospital.

The Alouette III helicopter went down next to the N3 highway between Durban and Johannesburg.

South African National Defence Force spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Louis Kirstein confirmed that the aircraft, based at Bloemspruit air-force base in Bloemfontein, ”made a forced landing outside Harrismith. A board of inquiry has been convened.”

The helicopter was apparently giving a flight display to spectators after the crew had stopped for takeaways at the centre’s Wimpy restaurant, a witness to the crash said.

”The chopper took a drive around and went sideways … it just missed some trees … then it turned around and went to the ground … and went up suddenly again but lost power,” said Jean Smith, maintenance manager at Bergview.

”I think they tried to show off,” he said.

The helicopter then crashed about 100m from the complex, on the other side of the N3.

”One blade hit a car on the freeway and spun into the complex where there were about 60 kids in the playground.

”The blade landed inside the animal farm [adjacent to the playground].”

Smith said one of the crew complained of a sore back after the crash, while the other three were walking around.

Asked about the accounts of its last flight, Kirstein said that would probably be part of the inquiry.

The Alouette III range of helicopters have been in service with the South African Air Force for the past 40 years.

They are due for replacement under the government’s controversial multibillion-rand arms deal. — Sapa

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