One of CAA’s functions is to investigate aircraft accidents. Now for the first time, the aviation authority will have to determine the cause of the crash that claimed the lives of three of its own employees.
Captain Thabiso Tolo (49), first officer Caroline Lekalakala (33) and flight inspector Gugu Mnguni (36), were on a plane during a calibration mission that took off from George Airport and crashed into mountainous terrain near Mossel Bay on 23 January. The 33 year old Cessna Citation jet took off from George Airport at 10.40 am but air traffic control lost contact 10 minutes later. A search and rescue operation was immediately activated and ultimately the wreckage was located around 1.40pm.
Captain Tolo had 4 959 hours of flying time, Lekalakala had approximately 1 050 hours of flying to her credit and Mnguni had 1 300 hours of flying under his belt. Despite his eight accident free years flying with the inspection unit, questions about the competency of the captain and his crew.
Director of Civil Aviation Poppy Khoza, said at a briefing that the three staff “well-experienced and were among a handful of such specialised crew undertaking this work in the country and on the African continent”.
She added: “Captain Tolo qualified in 2013 He was the first black captain of our flight inspection unit. Before that he was a manager within the CAA’s air safety operations division.
“He was also a pilot at SAA between 2004 and 2008 and was a testing standard officer at the CAA in 2004, and a pilot at the SA Air Force between 1989 and 2003.
First Officer Lekalakala had 1 050 hours of flying to her credit. She performed her last training at a flight safety simulator in San Antonio in the US.
“Lekalakala was a co-pilot and the first black lady to fly for the flight inspection unit in 2019. Prior to that she was an air force pilot between 2006 and 2018.
“Flight Inspector Mguni had 1 300 flying hours to his credit. He conducted his last training at the Global Navigation Satellite System for Aviation, Eurocontrol, in Luxembourg. “He became the first black flight inspector in 2013. Before he joined the CAA, he was a senior technician at SIA Solutions.
Officials from the CAA accident and incident investigation division had begun collecting evidence from the scene of the crash. The cause of the accident is not known at this stage. In December, a Sunday newspaper reported that the Cessna had been grounded the previous month after the cockpit filled with smoke twice in two days
A preliminary report on the accident was expected in 30 days, and would be followed by an interim report within 12 months if the final report had not been completed by then .