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SAAF Hercules C130BZ - Flight of mercy
 Article by Cpl Lebogang Ramaboea, photos by Sgt Phillip Maleka

“It is the biggest (humanitarian) evacuation effort by the South African Air Force (SAAF) since the dawn of democracy. An Air force C130 aircraft was converted into an air ambulance for this unfortunate incident”, said minister in the Presidency, the Honourable Jeff Radebe.

Medical personnel offloading the injured from Nigeria from the C130BZ

He was speaking at Air Force Base Swartkop (AFB Swkp) on Monday, 22 September 2014 on behalf of government during the welcoming ceremony of the pilgrim repatriation flight that landed at the base. A total of 25 South Africans were injured in Lagos, Nigeria when a guest house they were occupying collapsed, injuring and killing some pilgrims.

Emergency Services with SAPS on standby to attend to the injured

In aid of the injured and deceased South Africans, the Commander-in-Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), President Jacob Zuma authorised the dispatch of a SAAF a Hercules C130BZ from 28 squadron at Air Force Base Waterkloof (AFB Wklf).

An inter-departmental medical and rescue team comprising of members from the South African Military Health Services (SAMHS), South African Police Service (SAPS) forensics, social development, disaster management and law enforcement agencies accompanied the C130BZ to Nigeria to repatriate South African citizens and to unite them with their families and loved ones.

The return flight touched down at 10:43am after a 10 hour flight, carrying in it the injured including 3 children who were orphaned by the tragedy. Amongst them was 3 critically injured patients. Priority was given to the critically injured patients who were stabilized and transferred into the waiting ambulances for their road trip, escorted by the law enforcement agencies, to the Steve Biko Academic hospital where they would receive further medical assistance. The next-of-kin were also anxiously waiting to be reunited with the injured members of their families.
The minister confirmed injuries that included upper or lower limps amputations. Some of those injured during the collapse of the building developed gangrene on their toes and would have to be amputated as well. Those with kidney failures were put on dialyses.

Amongst dignitaries to welcome them back were Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans (DMoD&MV) Honourable Kebby Maphatsoe, Secretary for Defence (Sec Def) Dr. Sam Gulube, Chief of the Air Force (CAF), Lieutenant General Zimpande Msimang and Surgeon General, Lieutenant General Aubrey Sedibe from the SAMHS.
Furthermore, Minister Radebe told the delegation of media correspondents during the media briefing held at the base that government was now faced with a mammoth task of repatriating the mortal remains of the 87 confirmed dead South African citizens. The repatriation will commence upon the finalization of the DNA identification process which takes time as it has to be performed with meticulous precision.

Minister Jeff Radebe updating South Africans on the injured and deceased citizens

The ‘airborne ambulance’ of the SAAF, the C130BZ, will once more take to the skies to repatriate the remains of the deceased in service of the Republic and its people.


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