SANDF grounds plane after 'accidental' landing at Waterkloof

​Wednesday's incident is sure to raise questions about the security of the airspace above the military base. (Gallo)

​Wednesday's incident is sure to raise questions about the security of the airspace above the military base. (Gallo)

This is the second aircraft to illegally enter Waterkloof's airspace since early May, when a plane carrying invitees to the Gupta family wedding managed to secure permission to land at the base. 

But while the Gupta family allegedly managed to land their plane at the military base with the help of a few "name-dropping" officials, the pilot who entered Waterkloof's airspace on Wednesday afternoon did so accidentally, after becoming disorientated and "dizzy", the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) said. 

SANDF spokesperson, Siphiwe Dlamini said that in Wednesday's incident, the civilian aircraft was piloted by an Austrian pilot. The aircraft was impounded on Wednesday night and the three passengers, plus the pilot, were detained at the Lyttelton Police Station in Pretoria for questioning. 

"Three occupants of the Cessna 172 aircraft, including the pilot, were apprehended by members of the South African Air Force and the military police to allow for standard procedure of investigation," Dlamini said. 

He said that initial inquiries had revealed that: 

"The aircraft was piloted by an Austrian national, who indicated that he was a student pilot doing night flight training between Grand Central Airport to Lanseria Airport. According to the pilot, he made four circuits overhead Grand Central on his return leg during which time he became disoriented and lost his route due to dizziness.
He also indicated that he realised that his transponder was unserviceable when Lanseria Tower sent him radio communication that he could not be traced on the radar." 

Dlamini added that the aircraft was registered in South Africa and belonged to Grand Central Flight Training Services. The incident will be investigated further by various law enforcement agencies, he said. 

Investigation into the incident
Wednesday's incident is sure to raise questions about the security of the airspace above the military base. Civilians are not allowed to land there without permission from the SANDF – such permission is normally the preserve of visiting heads of state, entering the country on official state business. 

In what quickly became known as Guptagate, the family – who are friends of President Jacob Zuma – landed their civilian aircraft at the base in May. Government launched an investigation into the incident which cleared the president of suspicions that he had a hand in the landing saga. Instead, mid-to-low level government employees were suspended for allegedly name-dropping, using the phrase "Number One", to secure permission for the aircraft to land. 

 

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics.  Read more from Sarah Evans

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