Safety of Motlanthe was not compromised - Defence

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cape Town - Cabinet has been assured that Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe's safety was not compromised when his airplane was forced to land in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last week.

The Department of Defence and Military Veterans briefed an ordinary Cabinet meeting in Cape Town on Wednesday about the circumstances surrounding the diversion of Motlanthe's airplane.

"We wish to reiterate that at no point was the safety of the Deputy President and his delegation unduly compromised," said the department.

Motlanthe was returning from Libya last Monday where he was leading a South African delegation to the Special Session of the African Union Assembly.

The flight departed Libya for a planned refueling stop in Bangui the Central African Republic. However, on approaching Bangui, the weather was overcast and the visibility was very low.

"The aircraft made three approaches to Bangui airport before diverting to Gbadolite in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the official alternative to Bangui on a flight planning based on 45 minute homing and holding," said the department.

It said that Gbadolite airport is a recognized airport and was the nearest suitable diversion airfield with the capacity to accommodate a DC9 aircraft.

"While the airport does not have runway lights and the pilots were unable to make radio contact with the ground control, the aircraft did not have sufficient fuel to continue to another airport. The pilots had to make a forced landing at Gbadolite."

On landing, one of the rear tyres burst. The department said this did not impair the ability of the pilots to control the aircraft. The tyre was replaced on the ground by the aircraft engineer.

There was also no damage to the aircraft.

"We wish to express the gratitude of the South African government to the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, MONUC, the people of Gbadolite, and the South African Embassy in the DRC for their assistance and cooperation," said the department.

It further expressed appreciation to South African Airforce crew of the DC9 for their "professional conduct".

Meanwhile, Deputy Defence Minister Thabang Makwetla had said that it is a concern that there is currently only one airplane in the Presidency's fleet which is able to fly long-haul distances.

"We only have one long-range plane that the Presidency is using, the Inkwazi," said Makwetla.

He said the availability of aircraft that are able to fly long-haul journeys was of immediate concern.

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