South Africa — A pilot and crew member on board a Working on Fire Aviation helicopter have died while fighting a runaway veld fire in the Western Cape.
The company identified the pilot as Mr Darrel Rea (39) and the crew member as Helicopter Safety Leader Mr Jastun Visagie (23).
“While landing at the fire scene in strong winds to configure the helicopter into the fire-bombing role the Bell UH-1H (Huey) piloted by Mr Rea impacted a mountainside in Bains Kloof close to Wellington” yesterday 22 April 2015 the company statement said.
“Working on Fire provided ground and aerial teams to help with fire suppression at the Bains Kloof fire. The runaway veldfire was in mountainous terrain between Wellington and Ceres yesterday afternoon and there were strong winds at the time of the accident.”
Working on Fire Aviation CEO Johan Heine said: We are saddened by the loss of a very experienced pilot and crew member and wish to extend our heartfelt condolences to families as well as colleagues and the firefighting fraternity.
Mr Rea who was the chief pilot for WoF Aviation had total helicopter flying time experience in excess of 3300 hours and had worked for WoF Aviation for the last eight years. All WoF pilots are recruited selected and trained to the highest international standards Heine said. Visagie joined Working on Fire in 2013.
Rea is survived by his wife Angela infant son and parents. Visagie is survived by his parents brother and sister.
WoF Aviation has been doing Aerial Fire Fighting in South Africa since 1986. During the last 12 months the company said South Africa has experienced its worst fire season in seven years during which its crew has flown “in excess of 4700 hours”.
The cause of the accident is being investigated by the South African Civil Aviation Authority.