PRESIDENT Mnangagwa has mourned the two Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) pilots and a technician, who perished after a helicopter crashed in the Chinyika area of Goromonzi, Mashonaland East Province yesterday.
The crash also killed an 18-month-old toddler identified as Jade Fenyere, who was sleeping in the house with her twin sister Jada, who escaped with burn injuries together with the mother who later tried to rescue them.
The mother and Jada were taken to Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals and later transferred to Trauma Centre in Borrowdale for treatment, and were reportedly in a stable condition last night.
The deceased AFZ members are Flight- Lieutenant Annita Mapiye who is Zimbabwe’s first female helicopter fighter pilot, Wing Commander Tinashe Thomas Mapiye and Flight Sergeant Chikamhi.
Flight-Lt Mapiye is said to have joined the AFZ in 2012 and had recently given birth.
The cause of the crash will be established after an aircraft accident investigation.
In a statement yesterday, President Mnangagwa said he learnt with great sorrow and grief the fatal air crash involving one of the AFZ helicopters, which was on routine training in the Goromonzi area.
“While investigations are still underway, it has come to my attention that all three members of the crew perished in the crash,” said President Mnangagwa.
“Even more heart-wrenching is the information that the helicopter crashed on a rondavel, claiming one other life and injuring a mother and a child.
“As we await details concerning this tragic incident, may I, on behalf of the party Zanu-PF, Government, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, and on my behalf, express my deepest condolences to relatives of the airmen and the child who perished in this rare incident.”
The President wished a speedy recovery to the injured, adding that Government will do its utmost to ensure they receive urgent medical attention while the deceased are laid to rest with befitting dignity and honour.
The helicopter, an Agusta Bell 412 (AB 412), crashed into a house at Plot 2 of Gardner Road, Ward 16 in Goromonzi.
The AFZ, in a statement, said the helicopter was from Number 8 Sqn at Manyame Air Force Base (Manyame AFB), which was on a general handling training sortie in the Seke-Domboshava Training Area.
The AFZ said when contact could not be established with the aircraft, the Manyame Air Base activated a search and rescue operation, which resulted in the aircraft wreckage being identified.
Commander AFZ, Air Marshal Elson Moyo, said a dark cloud had engulfed the AFZ after news of the helicopter accident.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of lives after the unfortunate accident. Our hearts and prayers are with the families of the deceased and those injured after the accident,” he said.
Father to the deceased girl, Mr Joseph Fenyere who owns Plot 2, said he was not at home when the mishap occurred.
“I was informed that a helicopter had crashed into the house after deflecting from a tree branch at a hilly platform a few metres away and burst into flames.
“When the house caught fire, my three children; twin girls, Jade and Jada were asleep inside, while their four-year-old sibling, Dean, was seated in the doorway,” said Mr Fenyere.
Upon hearing the ear-piercing burst, the mother and other people on the scene took flight but she later tried to retrieve her children from the burning house.
By then, Jade had already died while Dean was out of danger.
When our Harare Bureau crew arrived at the scene, a sombre atmosphere engulfed the environs as villagers were trying to come to terms with the catastrophe.
Eyewitnesses said the chopper appeared to have lost control as it was flying close to the ground.
“I was washing a car behind the house when the helicopter appeared from the western side in the direction of Harare. Surprisingly, it seemed to be misfiring as it nosedived at a tree branch on a hillock behind the house and deflected to a boulder, before crashing into the house and bursting into flames on impact,” said Mr Peter Katsago (22).
Mr Dilon Fenyere (19) said the crash left them shell-shocked as it happened in front of their eyes.
He said they tried to help the mother’s trapped children, but Jade had already died.
Defence and War Veterans Affairs Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri and Air Marshal Moyo are expected to visit the Fenyere family tomorrow to convey their condolences.