Plane crash: Family want independent probe into SACAA’s safety compliance_1

The husband of First Officer Tebogo Lekalakala – one of the pilots who died in a plane crash in George last month – has called on the government to set up an independent panel to investigate compliance within the flight inspection unit.

Sputla Lekalakala was speaking at the memorial service of the pilots – Captain Thabiso Tolo, Flight Inspector Gugu Mnguni and Lekalakala – whose plane crashed into mountainous terrain near Mossel Bay on January 23, 2020, killing all three.

Present at the service were Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, South Africa Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) director Poppy Khoza as well as family, friends and colleagues of the three.

“The question I ask now as a concerned husband of the victim, does the AIID [Accidents and Incidents Investigation Division] fall within the Department of Transport or SACAA? I and many more aviators know the answer,” Lekalakala said.

“I believe the complicity of this situation has already damaged the credibility of the outstanding report.

“My wish is that [Mbalula] does the honourable thing and appoint an independent external panel of aviation auditors to assist and give their expertise to the AIID to determine the level of compliance in the SACAA’s flight inspection unit,” he said.

The SACAA launched an investigation shortly after the crash which, it said, would report directly to the transport department.

But concerns have been raised regarding the investigation’s independence.

Mbalula, however, said this speculation should stop.

“We appeal to everyone, including media establishments, to give the family space to grieve and bury their loved ones in peace, and to desist from speculating about the cause of the accident.

“The investigation is being conducted by the accident and incident investigation division which is accountable to the minister of transport and not the CAA [civil aviation authority] as others have been quick to suggest.

“This is a division that was established in 2016 through a ministerial order which similarly provides for the appointment of a safety review panel made up of independent industry experts who review accident and incident investigation reports before they are approved for submission.”

The investigation would work with several parties, including the manufacturers of the aircraft and engine, Mbalula said.

The preliminary report will be released a month after the accident.

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