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Deadly Arcturus helicopter was meant for Mnangagwa

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PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s fleet of presidential helicopters was depleted in April when an Air Force of Zimbabwe chopper crashed in Acturus, 30 kilometres east of Harare, as new details emerge on last month’s hair-raising emergency landing, The NewsHawks has established.

BERNARD MPOFU

As investigations into the emergency landing of one of President Mnangagwa’s choppers progress, information gathered by The NewsHawks indicates that the Augusta Bell 412 which crashed in April killing two pilots, a technician and a child on ground, was on a test flight for presidential use.

Zimbabwe’s Air Force complains that its helicopters and fighter jets are old, but the military has not been able to buy new ones due to sanctions by Western countries.

Information gathered by this paper also shows that the helicopter pilot who was flying Mnangagwa made an emergency due to poor visibility caused by mist and a faulty battery. This incident, according to sources familiar with the incident, also exposed weak communication between the two AFZ of Zimbabwe choppers and the presidential one.

“The two choppers which flank the President’s chopper only realised upon arriving at his residence in Harare that the presidential chopper was nowhere to be seen.  Insiders say this could have been averted if there was another chopper which he could alternate in using. Unfortunately that aircraft is the one which crashed in April,” a source said.

The helicopter which crashed in April was on a training mission, manned by two pilots and a technician, when it disappeared from the radar.

“The late Wing Commander Thomas Tinashe Manyowa had experience in flying VVIPs such as former President Robert Mugabe and at the time of the accident he was training Flight Lieutenant Anita Mapiya who had recently been promoted to fly VVIPs,” another source said.

The chopper came down on a house in Arcturus, a farming area some 30 km east of the capital Harare. It killed a child.

Before this crash, Manyowa and Mapiya trended on social media platforms after they flew one of the helicopters that transported senior government officials to the opening ceremony of a new bridge in Mshonaland Central province.

Information secretary Nick Mangwana was not immediately available for comment.

Last month, Mnangagwa’s presidential helicopter was dramatically forced into an emergency landing over 60 kilometres south-west of Harare on a Sunday afternoon due to technical failure.

The chopper, which was flying from Mnangagwa’s Kwekwe farm, landed at a farm owned by a ministry of Finance official.

Eye witnesses and sources said the crash landing incident happened around 4pm in the Sandringham area, Matsvaire village, in Chegutu district, when Mnangagwa was coming from his Kwekwe farm.

The sources said Mnangagwa, who frequently flies out of Harare to his Precabe Farm in Sherwood, Kwekwe, was rattled and terrified by the incident, which forced him into a scary emergency while on his way back to Harare.

Upon the incident, Mnangagwa’s security details, including an aide-de-camp, marksman from the Presidential Guard, a medic and intelligence officers, scrambled to cordon off the scene, as the team also worked out an emergency rescue plan to complete their 45-minute journey.

The Air Force, which maintains Mnangagwa’s helicopter and military choppers that escort the President when he flies within the country, has been blighted by aviation accidents in recent years due to bad weather, human error and the use of ageing aircraft.

Its capability was largely decimated during the Democratic Republic of Congo war from 1998-2002, in which Zimbabwe lost hundreds of millions of dollars, hundreds of soldiers and equipment worth millions of dollars. In a bid to replace the dilapidated equipment, Mnangagwa in April this year reportedly bought a new helicopter despite Zimbabwe’s economic deterioration and growing poverty.

 

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