15 Squadron SAAF

By Allan Jackson - 10 February 2004



15 Squadron of the South African Airforce has been a part of the fabric of Durban life since 1981. The squadron which operates helicopters has regularly featured in the news due to its appearances at our annual airshow and the great number of high-profile humanitarian and rescue helicopter missions it has completed.

One of my most memorable experiences came when, as a junior reporter in 1990, I was fortunate enough to accompany the squadron on a deployment to the Drakensberg mountains. In conjunction with members of the Mountain Club of South Africa they practiced their mountain flying and rescue techniques and showed a degree of precision flying which was truly awesome.

The Squadron was first formed in 1939 as a bombing and reconnaissance unit and equipped with three JU 86 aircraft. It saw service in North Africa and Italy during World War II before being disbanded in 1945. That wasn't the end of the story, however, because it was reformed in 1968 and equipped with Super Frelon Helipcopters with one flight being based at Swartkops in Pretoria and one based at Bloemspruit in Bloemfontein. Both flights moved to Durban in 1981 and acquired a number of Alouette III helicopters as well.

After a last major flypast on 20 June 1990 the squadron's Super Frelons were replaced with Pumas which were later upgraded and renamed as the Oryx. The Oryx is a medium-lift helicopter capable of carrying 16 seated passengers although it has carried up to 63 in flood emergencies. In 1994 the squadron acquired Eurocopter Kawasaki BK117 helicopters to replace its ageing Alouettes.

Click on the images to view wallpaper-sized enlargements. (1024x768px)

A look through the squadron's scrap book reveals the large number of humanitarian missions it has performed over the years but the most famous it has participated in must be the rescue of the passengers and crew of the Oceanos cruise liner which sank off the Transkei Coast on 4 August 1991. The 571 people aboard were saved through the use of liferafts and by waves of South African Airforce Pumas from 15 Squadron, 19 Squadron from Pretoria and 30 Squadron from Ysterplaat. Not a life was lost during the operation which I believe makes it one of the largest and most successful sea rescues ever performed.

The squadron received the Freedom of the City of Durban on 5 December 1992. These days it still performs such humanitarian missions as may be required and fulfils a variety of other roles including crime prevention in support of the army and police in the rural areas of Kwazulu Natal, and a yearly stint of duty in the ongoing peacekeeping operation in Burundi.


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