What happened to the Rietbok?

On Monday, CapeTalk presenter, Pippa Hudson, received a phone call from Jerry in Rugby, who told us about the Rietbok.

After Jerry’s call, we got an outpouring of emails, SMSes and calls, from listeners, wanting to know more. As a result of that, we did our own little investigation on-air.

For those unfamiliar with the story of the Rietbok:

On the 13th of March 1967, the Vickers Viscount aircraft ZS-CVA, also known as "Rietbok", South African Airways Flight 406, was on a scheduled passenger flight from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg via East London and Bloemfontein, where it crashed into the ocean.

Its Estimated Time of Arrival at East London was 5.14pm, but the weather there was poor. The captain had indicated that he would probably overfly East London, but that he would have a look at conditions there before deciding to do so. The last communication from the aircraft was when it notified East London Airport Control that it was "at 2,000 ft. with the coastline in sight".

It is estimated that the aircraft was then between 20 and 15 nautical miles from the Airport when it then crashed into the sea at 5.10pm. On board were Captain Gordon Benjamin Lipawsky, First Officer Brian Albert Richard Trenwith, 3 cabin crew and 20 passengers. Air-sea rescue operations were put in hand promptly, but there were no survivors. Bits of floating wreckage, consisting mainly of cabin interior fittings, were recovered by naval vessels and other pieces were washed ashore. The main wreckage of the aircraft is believed to be lying at a depth of between 180 and 220 feet, approximately 1½ miles off-shore. Extensive salvage operations were attempted, but were hindered by murky water, a current up to 8 knots, and dangerous sea conditions

The air accident report speculated, without supporting evidence, that the pilot of the plane suffered a heart attack while on approach and the co-pilot was unable to regain control of the aircraft. But no one really knows.

Here's what has been found out about this aircraft disaster that happened 48 years ago:


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