Allan Jackson - 10 February 2004
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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.
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.
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
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
on the images to view wallpaper-sized enlargements.
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.
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.