• Super Puma on UK ban list
• Faulty gearbox- EU regulators
• Both engines incapacitated
• Presidential helicopter stuck in Maun
• BDF, Ramsay confirm incident
• Helicopter costs over P280million
Only President Ian Khama’s ancestors stood between him and death when an engine failure on his official helicopter was detected. The potentially catastrophic engine fault was detected in the nick of time avoiding a possible fatal crash as Khama was on his return leg back to Gaborone from an excursion to the stalagmite and stalactite formations of the Gchwihaba caves.
The Botswana Defence Force (BDF) last week had its presidential transportation team running helter-skelter to find an alternative helicopter for Khama after his official helicopter encountered problems with its two engines stalling and forcing it to be grounded in Maun. An avid adventurer and lover of flying machines, Khama had embarked on his ‘ritual’ visits to the Gchwihaba caves when the helicopter, a EC225LP Super Puma, indicated failure on both engines.
Even though the cause of the engines failure is still to be established, insiders have not ruled out Khama, who prefers to pilot himself, may have pushed the helicopter beyond its limitations as he is said to be using it on harsh conditions. The manner of flying and the conditions under which the helicopter was being used however, may not necessarily have been the cause of the engine breakdown, as the helicopter itself was bought second hand from the Spanish government last year through the Botswana Defence Force Air Wing, which is responsible for presidential air transport.
In 2016 The Botswana Gazette reported in a story titled ‘BDF BUYS KHAMA BANNED CHOPPER’ that European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) instituted a worldwide ban in June 2016 on the flying of Airbus Super Puma EC225/AS332 helicopters following a crash that killed 13 people in Norway in an incident that was later attributed to gearbox ‘failures’.
The ban was widely reported and attributed to a series of incidents linked to gearbox problems including a 2009 Scotland crash in which the rotor became dislodged causing the death of 16 people on board.
The Super Puma remains grounded in Britain and Norway, even though EASA cleared the EC225LP and AS332L2 for return to service in October last year.
Khama’s helicopter was flown to Botswana aboard an Antonov Airlines An-124 transport aircraft on September 14, 2016. Two weeks later it was hovered, in pomp and ceremony, show-off style above the public during the Golden Jubilee celebrations at the National Stadium.
A report carried by Defence Web publication indicates that Khama’s helicopter was first used by the Spanish Police, having acquired it in 2010 for the National Police Corps Special Operations Group. “In 2013 it was returned to Airbus Helicopters in part payment for a new batch of EC135s for the Spanish police. It was subsequently stored before being bought by Botswana,” the report reveals.
Since its launch 41 years ago, the Super Puma has been hailed as one of the most iconic helicopters in the world, a giant workhorse that flies from Africa to the Arctic. It can cruise up to top speed of 276 km/h and costs a whopping $28Million. Government will spend no less than $8million to replace the faulty Turbomeca Makila Engine type fitted in Khama’s helicopter.
Government spokesperson Dr Jeff Ramsay confirmed Khama’s ordeal in an interview with this publication on Sunday. Without going into details, Ramsay said, ‘‘apparently the incident happened last weekend following the president’s visit to Gchwihaba’’. BDF Deputy Director in the Directorate of Protocol and Public Affairs Lieutenant Colonel Fikani Machola also confirmed the incident and said they were able to find an alternative helicopter for the President. Khama’s Press Secretary Gobe Pitso had persistently avoided responding to this publication’s email enquiry prior to going to press.
Khama is not new to helicopter mishaps. In 2006 and while he was still vice president, Khama cheated death when a Botswana Defence Force (BDF) plane that he was flying developed power problems. He was forced to crash-land in Francistown. Just as is the case with the current trip, Khama at the time was said to have been on a private trip to Mashatu and in the company of his friends.