Police helicopter pilot wounded in shootout

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Johannesburg - A police helicopter pilot was wounded in the leg after a shootout with an armed gang near Lenasia, on Wednesday.

According to police, at around 9am, the Johannesburg police helicopter was dispatched to the scene of a cash-in-transit heist near the suburb, south of Johannesburg.

"The helicopter pilot's attention was drawn to a wanted vehicle, a white Chrysler Voyager, and together with police on the ground, the helicopter tracked the vehicle.

"The suspects in the vehicle abandoned the Voyager and apparently some of them hijacked a black Toyota Yaris," said Director Sally de Beer from the National Police Commissioner's office in a statement.

She said the suspects were armed and began shooting at ground force members and at the police helicopter. Police members returned fire.

During the shoot-out the police helicopter pilot, Senior Superintendent Rob Siegrist, 40, was wounded in the leg. His crew member, Inspector Piet Maritz, 47, was not wounded.

The helicopter's radio communication was shot out and the helicopter sustained several bullet holes, however, Senior Superintendent Siegrist managed to fly and land safely at Milpark Hospital.

"He sustained shrapnel wounds to the leg, but is in good spirits and the injuries are not serious. He will be held for observation for 24 hours," said Director de Beer.

Divisional Commissioner Arno Lamoer, under who's command the SAPS Air Wing resorts, commended Senior Superintendent Siegrist for his courageous efforts.

"I would like to commend him for his courageous efforts and attribute his keeping a level head through the shoot-out and flying to safety despite his injuries to his many years of experience as a police helicopter pilot," said Commissioner Lamoer.

He added that the police would take a tough stance against criminals who fire on members and police aircraft.

"Our crew members are trained to defend their pilots and aircraft and will not hesitate to do so," he said.