Helicopter

Name ID 2469

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Extract Author: Paul Bibby
Extract Date: 6 December 2007

Chopper crew survives 'burning' lake crash

Sydney Morning Herald, December 11, 2007

A group of wildlife documentary makers, including two Australians, have survived a Helicopter crash into a caustic lake in the remote north-east of Tanzania.

Five days ago, Sydney cameraman Ben Herbertson and producer Jeff Sibbery were part of an eight-member crew that set off in a military Helicopter over Lake Natron in the middle of the Tanzanian desert to film flamingos for an African wildlife documentary.

The group were in the air for little more than five minutes and were flying at a very low altitude over the mirror-like surface of the lake when the pilot dipped too low, catching the water with the Helicopter's landing skis.

In an instant, the craft plunged nose-first into the shallow lake, breaking apart and sending the crew into the hot, caustic water.

"The skids hit the water and we just crashed and smashed into pieces,'' Herbertson said.

"The next thing I knew I was in the lake and the water was burning my eyes. The reason the flamingos breed there is because the conditions are so harsh there are no predators. The water is physically hot.''

As Herbertson cleared the burning water from his eyes, he could make out the shapes of his fellow passengers - some were still in the wrecked Helicopter, others were stumbling around in the soupy water.

Jeff Sibbery broke his hip on impact, and the Tanzanian military pilot had a badly broken leg and deep bleeding cuts to his face.

Worse still, the wreck of the Helicopter was starting to smoke ominously.

"We managed to get all the injured people out of the Helicopter, but then we had to figure out how to get out of there because it really looked like it was going to explode,'' Herbertson said.

"We just started walking and dragging people out of the water and across the salt lake land but it was a long way - three or four k's. So myself and the guide, Mark, decided to walk to the shore to get help because there were a lot of the Masai tribes people around.''

The women and children of the nearby Masai tribes immediately pitched in, building makeshift stretchers out of their walking sticks and clothes so the two injured men could be carried back to shore, and giving water to the remaining passengers to stave off dehydration in the baking desert sun.

"They were amazing - it was the middle of the desert and they were carrying people and carrying water. It was so sweltering you could dehydrate in about half an hour. The sweat ran down your forehead and the sulphur would run back into your eyes.''

As they were assisting the passengers onto the salt plateau, the wreck of the Helicopter exploded, sending an empty fuel tank flying and a plume of thick black smoke into the air.

The group was planning an extended flight so the craft was heavy with fuel, but luckily nobody was injured in the blast.

By now the group managed to make contact with a number of nearby tour groups, who assisted them back to their camp where they were helped by a group of holidaying German doctors.

Sibbery and the Tanzanian pilot were airlifted out, the former to a hospital in Nairobi in neighbouring Kenya where he was operated on that night.

Herbertson began the long journey back to Sydney via the Tanzanian city of Arusha.

He does not believe a mechanical error was responsible for the crash, nor does he hold any animosity to the pilot, preferring instead to blame the bizarre conditions.

"The lake was literally like glass, you could see the reflection of the sun, the clouds, the heat haze. My theory is that the pilot was disoriented. We were just incredibly lucky - lucky that we were flying pretty slowly, lucky that Mark could speak the language, that the local people were so amazing.''

Sibbery remains in the Aga Khan hospital in Nairobi, while Herbertson is back in Sydney, physically unscathed.

"Once I started speaking to my editor, I got a bit emotional,'' he said.

"I certainly don't like flying anymore. I've had five flights to get back here and I didn't enjoy any of them.''

Extract ID: 5466

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Extract Author: RICHARD HUFF
Extract Date: 6 December 2007

Forrest Sawyer: I almost died in crash

NY DAILY NEWS December 12th 2007

Forrest Sawyer was in Tanzania filming his series for the Travel Channel.

Forrest Sawyer has covered wars and has had guns pointed in his face, but it was a routine film shoot in a Helicopter that nearly killed him.

Last week, Sawyer, his camera crew and others were aboard a Helicopter that flipped in Tanzania's Lake Natron. The producer of Sawyer's series for the Travel Channel suffered a broken hip and the pilot had a broken leg.

"I've been in a lot of strange situations," Sawyer, now back home in New York, said Tuesday. "But I'd never come as remotely close to dying as this."

Sawyer said they were out for the day filming aerial shots for his "Presidential Tour" documentaries, which usually have the president of a country as tour guide.

In this instance, they were flying over Lake Natron, one of the most toxic environments in the world, taking general wildlife shots.

Suddenly, the pilot touched the lake's surface with one of the Helicopter's pylons, causing it to flip over in shallow water.

"Water rushes in," said Sawyer, who suffered a knee injury in the crash. "We're now hanging upside down in the water. I got a breath; I thought it was going to blow."

Also aboard the chopper were wildlife expert Marc Baker and Isaya, a 24-year-old native whom Sawyer befriended. Isaya had taken his first flight ever the day before with the crew.

Sawyer, Isaya and Baker pulled the others from the wreckage and walked them to shore 3 or 4 miles away, according to Sawyer.

"I thought the odds are we were dead," he said. "I knew if we didn't get out of there in time, get out of that space before it heated up to 140 degrees, we were dead."

After reaching the shoreline, they were helped by young members of the Masai tribe, who crafted a makeshift stretcher to drag the injured to get medical care.

Sawyer said the group had become dehydrated and weary.

"I hobbled back and forth. I was saying, 'You can't stop. We die if you don't keep going.'"

Initially, everyone thought they were dead, including executives at the Travel Channel.

It was six hours before the severely injured got real medical treatment. It would be a day before Sawyer spoke to his wife.

The pilot was eventually airlifted to Nairobi. The producer remains hospitalized in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"If certain things hadn't happened, if it hadn't flipped directly on its head, we'd be dead. If it hadn't had the doors off, we'd be dead. If it hadn't been in shallow water, we'd be dead," Sawyer said.

The project will likely be scrapped, according to Sawyer, and they'll regroup to see if they can make a story out of the incident.

No surprise, the crash and the aftermath has had a deep impact on the 58-year-old Sawyer. He says he feels a deep bond with the Masai who were so helpful.

"I've pushed my luck so many times," he said. "I have a 4-year-old girl. I don't need to do crazy things. … When you get that close, it causes you to think about what is important."

Extract ID: 5467

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Extract Author: Simon Mkina
Extract Date: 6 December 2007

Scandal in Tanzania army chopper

African Path, December 12, 2007

WHY was a Tanzanian military Helicopter used to fly a group of foreigners on an assignment to shoot a wildlife documentary film in Arusha Region?

This is the big question now emerging following last week’s near-fatal crash involving a Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) chopper in the Lake Natron area.

The 12bn/- aircraft, now believed to have been one of the four Agusta Bell model 412 EP helicopters owned by the military, was apparently on a civilian mission when it went down and exploded on Wednesday morning, with eight people on board.

Although all civilian passengers and military crew members survived, questions now linger on how a TPDF chopper came to be used for an obviously non-military mission.

When contacted for comment by THISDAY, the Deputy Minister for Defence and National Service, Omar Yusuf Mzee, said he was also in the dark over the whole incident.

Mzee said he had instructed the TPDF top brass to send him a report on the accident and circumstances leading up to it.

“I am still waiting for the report…you can contact the military for additional information on the matter,” he said.

The Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), General Davis Mwamunyange, was yesterday not immediately available for comment.

It has been established that the military Helicopter was being deployed by a crew of four television documentary makers from assorted Western countries - Australia, Canada, the United States and Britain – on a mission to film flamingos over Lake Natron.

The Arusha Regional Police Commander, Matei Basilio, identified the crash survivors as Jeffrey Sibbery (Canada), Forest Sowyer (US), Ben Herberston (Australia) and Mark Berker (UK).

Tanzanians who survived the crash were named as Lt. Col. Mayenga, the TPDF pilot; Lt. Edward (his co-pilot), Helicopter technician Gabriel Majala, and the crew’s tour guide Issaya ole Poruo.

Interviewed by one Australian newspaper, two of the crash survivors - Sydney cameraman Ben Herbertson and producer Jeff Sibbery - narrated how they had been in the air for little more than five minutes and were flying at a very low altitude over the lake, when the pilot dipped too low - catching the water with the Helicopter's landing skis.

In an instant, they said, the aircraft plunged nose-first into the shallow lake, breaking apart and tossing those on board into the hot, caustic water.

"The skids hit the water and we just crashed and smashed into pieces,' Herbertson said.

"The next thing I knew, I was in the lake and the water was burning my eyes.”

He added: “The reason the flamingos breed there is because the conditions are so harsh there are no predators. The water is physically hot.'

Sibbery broke his hip on impact, while the pilot, Lt. Col. Mayenga, ended up with a badly broken leg and deep bleeding cuts on his face.

"We managed to get all the injured people out of the Helicopter, but then we had to figure out how to get out of there because it really looked like it was going to explode,' Herbertson said.

According to the survivors, it was the women and children from nearby Maasai tribal homesteads who came to their rescue. And as they were being assisted onto the salt plateau, the wreck of the Helicopter did explode, sending an empty fuel tank flying and a plume of thick black smoke into the air.

Reports say the group was planning an extended flight so the chopper was heavy with fuel, but luckily nobody was injured in the blast.

The injured Sibbery and pilot Mayenga were airlifted out of the area, the former to a hospital in Nairobi in neighbouring Kenya where he underwent an operation that same night.

News of the crash and the type of aircraft involved come in the wake of reports that the government, through the Ministry of Defence and National Service, recently bought four Agusta Bell model 412 EP helicopters for the TPDF in somewhat controversial circumstances.

Investigations by THISDAY have established that the choppers bought are of soft-skin, civilian mode, and not suitable for specialised military operations.

A private local company, Khaisa Enterprises Limited, has since filed a 17bn/- suit against the defence ministry for breach of contract in connection with the supply of helicopters to the TPDF.

According to details of the plaint obtained by THISDAY, Khaisa Enterprises claims that the defence ministry went against a valid contract in which the company was to supply six units of COUGAR AS 532 helicopters manufactured by France’s Eurocopters company at a total cost of 125 million euros (approx. 210bn/-).

It is alleged that the Augusta Bell choppers eventually purchased for the TPDF “had already been rejected by the defendants (defence ministry), on the basis that the same were of inferior quality and were civilian helicopters, while the defendants required helicopters for military use.”

It is further alleged that the defence ministry “purchased the helicopters at a higher cost of $9.263m each, contrary to the ones proposed by the plaintiff (Khaisa Enterprises Ltd) which were relatively cheaper at $4.7m each, thus making the nation suffer a loss of $4.563m for each Helicopter purchased.”

Our sources say the controversial military radar agent Shailesh Vithlani and his business partner were the agents used to supply the Agusta Bell helicopters to the government at vastly inflated prices.

Vithlani is currently wanted by Tanzanian authorities over perjury charges before the Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court in Dar es Salaam.

Meanwhile, the actual cause of the military Helicopter crash in Arusha has yet to be established.

Extract ID: 5468

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Arusha Times
Extract Author: Valentine Marc Nkwame and Happy Lazaro
Page Number: 522
Extract Date: 14 June 2008

Helicopter crash marks sad end to Summit

Relatives and friends of the six people who died in a Helicopter crash, including hundred of Arusha residents, on Tuesday flocked the Mount Meru Hospital mortuary where a solemn exercise to identify bodies of the departed loved ones took place.

The victims, whose bodies were badly burnt but still could be identified, included four army personnel and two civilians. They were identified as Col. Wakete (pilot); major Sinda (co-pilot); and Lt. Kirunga and private Maande (technicians). The two civilians were identified as Mrs Irene Nkamba Jitenga, wife of Brigadier General Jitenga, and 14-year- old Tamary Mziray, a secondary school student.

A Helicopter belonging to the Tanzania People’s Defense Force crashed in the Matevesi village of Kisongo at noon killing all its six occupants on the spot.

The Helicopter is said to have lost balance while in air, swerved before plunging at high speed. It went down at Matevesi area, in the outskirts of Arusha town a few kilometers from the Arusha airport. Upon hitting the ground the chopper exploded into flames.

Eyewitnesses said they heard a deafening bang before the chopper went down and caught fire.

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The chopper was one of two deployed here to help oversee security during the just-ended five-day Leon H. Sullivan Summit.

According to Arusha’s Regional Police Commander Basilio Matei the Helicopter was flying from Arusha town heading to Dodoma when the accident occurred shortly after the journey started. The cause of the crash is yet to be established.

It is yet another army chopper to crash in the region in a period of six month after another TPDF Helicopter, an Agusta Bell model 412 EP valued at Tsh. 12 billion, crashed in the Enkare-sero parts of the shallow Lake Natron basin, last December 2007. However the eight passengers onboard had survived.

It was then reported that the military Helicopter carried a crew of four television documentary makers from Australia, Canada, the United States and Britain who were said to have been on a mission to film the pink flamingos over Lake Natron.

The December crash survivors were named as Jeffrey Sibbery (Canada), Forest Sowyer (US), Ben Herberston (Australia) and Mark Berker (UK). Tanzanians who survived the crash were identified as Lt. Col. Mayenga, the TPDF pilot; Lt. Edward (his co-pilot), Helicopter technician Gabriel Majala, and the crew’s tour guide Issaya ole Poruo.

Extract ID: 5786
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