The perils of power lines when flying low

A South African Air Force Oryx helicopter crashed on Sunday, in a part of the country I know well.  The reason for the crash illustrates one of the hazards of flying in what is now, sadly, a third world environment.

The medium transport helicopter, operated by 22 Squadron based at AFB Ysterplaat, crash-landed and ended up on its side just outside the Huguenot tunnel on the Worcester side.

An occupant of the helicopter said that they flew through newly erected wires at 300 feet before crashing onto the highway, narrowly missing a road resurfacing machine and scattering debris onto the road.

Of the three crew and five passengers aboard, only the aircraft commander received serious injuries, having fractured two lumbar vertebrae. He was admitted to 2 Military Hospital in Wynberg, Cape Town, for further treatment and overnight observation. The co-pilot and flight engineer were discharged, having only received moderate injuries. “All family members walked away without a scratch,” the aircraft occupant said.

. . .

The area is well known to the Cape Town based helicopter crew, but it appears that the wire the Oryx hit had only recently been erected in a valley of the Du Toitskloof Mountains.

“Wires are brand new (only put up this week) with no notams [notice to airmen],” the crew member said.

He added that not even the SA Red Cross Air Mercy Service (AMS) knew about the wires, despite AMS also flying extensively in the area.

There’s more at the link.

I’ve traveled the old Du Toits Kloof Pass and its successor, the Huguenot Tunnel, many times.  It’s pretty rugged country.  The passengers and crew are very lucky the helicopter crashed on the road, rather than in the rocky, mountainous terrain around it.  Here’s a video clip of the old pass, to show you what I mean.

I also remember No. 2 Military Hospital, less than favorably . . . I spent a total of 40 days there recovering from injuries during the 1970’s.  It was no fun at all.  However, at the time, most of its buildings were so-called “temporary” wooden barracks left over from World War II.  Comfortable, they were not!  They were replaced by a modern hospital some years ago, which was recently upgraded.

I think the people aboard the helicopter are very lucky to be alive.  I wonder what will happen to the contractor(s) responsible for putting up the wires without notifying air traffic control?  That’s a well-known helicopter route, particularly for air ambulances.  The Oryx just happened to be the first to use it after the wires were strung – with predictable results.



  1. It's the third world now. Rule #1 goes into effect. What's the highest they can build towers strung with wires? Stay 200' above that for your entire route. Based on wire strikes I've seen, it's amazing the crew and passengers survived.

  2. I know about those temporary barracks. When I was stationed at Ft. Leonard Wood in 1968, I was billeted in one of those WWII vintage buildings. A couple months ago I was talking to a fellow who was stationed there more recently and apparently many are still in use.

  3. Yep, apparently, they didn't get official notification to look out the window when in that area. What if the notification had been made, but it didn't make the NOTAM yet? It's in the one that comes tomorrow.

    If you are at 300 feet, your basic assumption should be that any number of undocumented things are in your airspace.

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