The South African Air Force (SAAF) could have lost its only serviceable Lockheed C-130 transport aircraft this week in a crash landing at Goma airport in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) while involved on a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission.
Democratic Alliance (DA) defence and military veterans spokesperson Kobus Marais said: “The aircraft is strategically important for the SA National Defence Force in terms of both land and maritime missions.”
He added that the plane, which was built in 1963, was “misused” to transport Cuban military engineers to their Caribbean island home last month.
“It is regrettable our only serviceable C-130BZ was not tasked to protect South Africans,” he said.
The aircraft went off the runway at Goma on Thursday and one of its engines caught fire.
The aircraft, from Air Force Base Waterkloof’s 28 Squadron, was transporting 59 passengers and eight crew members from the UN mission.
Although initial reports said there was minimal damage, photographs of the accident show extensive damage to the left wing and its two turboprop engines.
Some experts have said they doubt whether it is worth the cost of repairing the damage, while others pointed out that the cash-strapped SAAF, which has seen repeated budget cutbacks in recent years, probably would not have the money in any event.
African Defence Review director Darren Olivier said the incident is a “big blow” for the SAAF.
“Even if this C-130BZ is repairable, I doubt they will be able to afford it on their meagre budget, especially with the difficulty of replacing an outer wing section in a location like Goma,” he said.
Just how dependent the South African military was on the Lockheed Martin turboprop medium transport came from Dean Wingrin, webmaster of the unofficial SAAF website and defenceWeb correspondent.
“The aircraft was in Egypt in mid-December, then Cuba in late December and is now written off in the DRC in early January,” said Wingrin.
The department of defence, through its head of communications, Siphiwe Dlamini, said a board of inquiry would be convened to investigate the “circumstances surrounding the incident”.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said she applauded the crew of the aircraft after its “uncontrolled landing incident”.
“The minister has expressed her gratitude for the expertise and professionalism of the crew under duress that ensured that lives were not lost during the uncontrolled landing incident that involved men and women of the South African National Defence Force who are serving the republic and the region,” read a statement.
This is the first serious accident/incident involving the SAAF’s C-130BZs in more than 50 years of operations.
“This hull loss will have serious implications for SAAF logistic capability. Although there are another seven airframes, only two or three are airworthy at any one time,” said Wingrin.