BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA/ EVANS MATHANDA
VILLAGERS in the Arcturus area in Ruwa where an Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) helicopter crashed on Friday say they watched helplessly as the plane exploded with people inside because they were afraid to get closer.
The chopper, a Bell 412, crashed killing three crew members and a child on the ground as it came down on a house soon after taking off from Manyame Air Base.
The helicopter was on a training mission, with two pilots, including 30-year-old Flight Lieutenant Annita Mapiye and a technician. The helicopter had just taken off from Manyame Air Base when it disappeared on the radar before it came down on a house in Arcturus, a farming area, some 30km east of the capital city. Mapiye is said to have flown President Emmerson Mnangagwa before.
The mother of the deceased child and her other child sustained burn injuries from the incident and are currently admitted at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals.
AFZ commander Air Marshal Elson Moyo said the helicopter took off from Manyame with two pilots and one aircraft technician on board, on a general handling training in the Seke-Domboshava area, but they lost contact with the aircraft soon after.
The other names of the deceased had not yet been released as of yesterday.
Villagers interviewed by The Standard say they dashed into their homes when they heard the crash, fearing it could be a bomb attack.
When our crew visited the scene yesterday, there was a heavy presence of security officers manning the area, barring civilians from accessing the crash site.
“It was around midday when I heard the loud and disturbing sound.
“I rushed outside to see what was happening and I saw a helicopter coming down, showing that it had a technical fault,” an eyewitness, who preferred anonymity said.
“It hit a tree before it exploded and crushed onto a house.
“The helicopter was in flames and we knew that chances that the occupants of the plane would survive were very little.”
Another eyewitness said several villagers witnessed the incident, but they did not attempt to go closer to the scene because the explosion was fierce.
“When we heard the noise, we thought it was a terrorist attack aimed at harming us, but when the plane exploded, we knew it was an accident and we watched helplessly from a distance.
“Local police officers arrived after about 30 minutes, at the scene, and we realised that our neighbour had lost a child and she had been injured, together with her other child.”
Investigations into the causes of the crash are still underway.