11 years ago, on 14 August 2011, a pair of ex-SAAF privately-owned Piaggo P.166 Albatross aircraft crashed into the Wolkberg mountains near Tzaneen, South Africa, killing all 13 people on board.
The two Albatross aircraft had participated the previous day in the Tzaneen Air Show, and departed around 10:20 local time, returning to Rand Airport, Johannesburg, and were flying in formation when they struck the mountain in cloud.
The 11 passengers were South African nationals, some returning to the country for a holiday, and included two children.
Those on board ZU-MMI, were pilot Brian Gruar and passengers Marrion Anderson, Maddison and Alexandra Doak, Tess Spence, Louise Warden (wife of Glen Warden), and Kevin Woolacott.
On board the second plane, ZS-NJX, were pilot Peter Gildenhuys, and passengers Stuart and Peter van Oldenburg, Marietjie de Witt, and Linda Pierce, and well-known photographer Frans Dely.
After failing to arrive at Johannesburg at 13:30 the aircraft were reported missing, and a search and rescue operation was launched. No distress call was received, and no flight plan was filed.
Adverse weather hampered the search teams and the crash site was discovered by a police helicopter at 08:15 on Tuesday, two days later.
On the day of the accident, a witness in the Lekgalameetse Valley reported seeing both aircraft overflying the valley before disappearing into low clouds. A loud bang was heard shortly after, but was not reported to authorities.
The pilot of ZS-NJX held a commercial pilot licence with around 4,300 hours of flight, while the pilot of ZU-MMI held a private pilot licence with approximately 2,900 hours. Both pilots had flown in and out of Tzaneen on numerous occasions before.
ZS-NJX and ZU-MMI, with serial numbers 446 and 462 respectively were built in 1973 as coastal patrol, search and rescue aircraft for the SAAF, and after service retirement were sold to private owners.
The subsequent investigation found no evidence of any technical problem with the aircraft and cited adverse weather and poor flight planning as factors in the accident.
A service was held on Sunday where the Middleton Manor Pipe Band’s rendition of Highland Cathedral filled the air as family and guests proceeded to Rand Airport. In tribute, five aircraft performed the “missing man formation”.
We will always remember them.