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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

Plane crash: Families of deceased consider suing Sacaa as Mbalula appoints appeals authority

The Ethiopians blamed human error and found the aircraft had not been properly maintained.

After two years of waiting for answers on what led to the SA Civil Aviation Authority’s (Sacaa) Cessna plane crash in George in 2020 which killed his wife, Tebogo Lekalakala, captain Thabiso Tolo and flight inspector Gugu Mnguni, husband Sputla was yesterday “speechless” to hear the transport minister has appointed an appeals authority to come up with fresh recommendations.

Families of deceased consider suing Sacaa

The families of those who died have been considering suing Sacaa following revelations contained in the investigation report compiled by experts from the Ethiopian Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau.

Human error and lack of maintenance

The Ethiopians blamed human error and found the aircraft had not been properly maintained. It did not have a valid certificate of airworthiness and was not in a suitable condition to fly the crew.

“I am speechless. I have already spoken out on the matter of my wife and her colleagues. I have now given this to my lawyers to handle,” said Lekalakala.

Appeal authority

Amid the celebration over the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) having rated South Africa with a safety index of +1 – the highest positive rating any state can achieve – Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said of his latest probe into the George crash: “We have appointed an appeal authority to recommend to the minister on two appeals received.

“The authority is headed by a judge and two aviation experts. He is attending to the appeals and before the end of November the appeal authority will recommend to the minister. The families will also be informed about the appeals authority outcome.”

Independent probe

The Ethiopians were requested by Mbalula to carry out an independent probe into the crash, after the original probe blamed pilot error and did not say anything about shortcomings on Sacaa’s side.

In global accident investigations, once a report has been finalised, there is normally no “appeals process”.

Responding to a question on the Airports Company of South Africa’s (Acsa) state of readiness for a pending public sector strike which could affect airlines and airports, Acsa chief executive Mpumi Mpofu said:

“We have been given an indication that it might be possible to have smooth running of flights without interruption, but in the airport ecosystem this strike is likely to impact – if it does go ahead – on the public service component of airport operations.

“We are in a state of readiness to manage the strike to ensure it does not affect passenger movements, ensuring striking workers stand in designated areas.

“There has been consultation with the SA Police Service and other key stakeholders on the environment, if it does go ahead.

“We are busy with an assessment on the ground and putting together contingency plans.”

Mbalula lauds Sacaa

Lauding Sacaa for “a job well done”, Mbalula said: “The significance of the category 1 status is that SA meets Icao’s safety standards. The implication for SA operators is that they can fly or operate directly into the US unhindered.

“Simply put, a Category 1 status means that the two countries’ safety systems are on par.

“This has huge economic benefits for SA businesses.

“Not only can SA operators operate unhindered into the US, but we can already see the economic benefits as the United States have increased their traffic volumes to South Africa, which demonstrates the confidence they have in our safety and security systems.”

“In addition, the robustness of the SA cargo security regime continues to be recognised by the US’ Transport Security Administration as being equivalent to their own system.

“South Africa has now received permanent recognition of our cargo aviation security system.”

ALSO READ: DA accuses Mbalula of trying to protect SACAA from being held to account

– brians@citizen.co.za