South African Airways, or SAA, may be South Africa’s largest airline and its national flag carrier, but throughout its lengthy history, it’s not been without its incidents and accidents.
In 1962, a Douglas DC-3 crashed into a mountainside near the Eastern Cape town of Seymour. The pilot had decided to follow visual flight rules (VFR), as opposed to instrument flight rules (IMR), despite flying below low clouds and in area with rising ground. The pilot and first officer died in the crash. Fortunately, all the passengers and cabin staff survived.
In 1968, flight SA228 from Johannesburg to London made a stopover in Windhoek, Namibia. After take-off, it crashed just 5 kilometres from the runway, hitting the ground at 502 kilometres per hour. Of the 128 passengers on board, only five survived. The accident was put down to pilot error, and it remains the worst aviation accident to have occurred in Namibia. The aircraft, a Boeing 707-344, was only six weeks old at the time of the crash.
In 1987, an in-flight fire in the cargo hold led flight SA295, on a Boeing 747-200B Combi, to crash into the Indian Ocean en route from Johannesburg to Taipei, Taiwan. All 159 passengers on board the plane died in the crash. The cause of the fire is unconfirmed, although various theories have been offered. Because of the arms embargo South Africa was under at the time, arms were often brought into the country clandestinely, leading some to postulate that the fire may have been caused by unstable firearms onboard.
1972 SAA hijacking
The only ever successful hijacking of an SAA plane was of a Boeing 727 en route from Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe) to Johannesburg, on May 24, 1972. Two Lebanese men planted dynamite on the plane and, armed with a pistol, proceeded to force the pilot to return to Salisbury, where the plane landed, refuelled and took off again, with a total of 12 hostages on board. The hijackers demanded to be flown to the Seychelles, but tricking them, the pilot flew to Blantyre, Malawi. Upon landing in Blantyre, under cover of darkness, all but one of the passengers succeeded in sneaking into the cockpit and escaping down the emergency escape rope. By the time the hijackers realised what was afoot, just the one passenger, a flight attendant and the pilot remained as hostages. The two hijackers apparently began arguing with each other and the remaining three hostages escaped. Malawi security forces arrived and the two hijackers surrendered. Unbelievably, they were charged only for illegal possession of a firearm and were released after serving one year in prison.
2006 – Attempted SAA hijacking
On flight SAA322 from Cape Town to Johannesburg, a 21-year-old Zimbabwean armed with a hypodermic needles took a flight attendant hostage, attempting to force the pilot to redirect the flight to Maputo, Mozambique. Luckily for everyone else on board, the hijacker was subdued before entering the cockpit. The pilot had been monitoring the event via CCTV and had already rerouted the plane to Cape Town, where the police stormed the aircraft and arrested the hijacker.
These are only a few examples of incidents on SAA flights, but a large number of accidents happen on private crafts and in those used for sports and recreation. According to the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), 2012 saw at least 52 aviation accidents and 2013 a further 31 accidents. Due to the nature of aviation accidents, fatalities are rather likely. For those left alive by aviation accidents resulting from negligence, the best legal recourse is often to seek out attorneys specialising in claims for aviation accidents to help them claim for damages.