JOHANNESBURG — A South African military aircraft on an unknown mission to an area near the village where former President Nelson Mandela lives crashed in a mountain range, officials said Thursday. It was unclear whether there were any survivors.
The Douglas DC-3 Dakota, a twin-propeller aircraft, had taken off from Pretoria’s Waterkloof Air Force Base on Wednesday night, said Brig. Gen. Xolani Mabanga, a military spokesman. On Thursday morning, soldiers found the wreckage of the airplane in the Drakensberg mountains near Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal province, some 340 kilometers (210 miles) southeast of the air base, Mabanga said.
Mabanga said soldiers had been sent to the scene to look for survivors. Mabanga said he did not know what the mission of the aircraft was, though it had planned to land in Mthatha in the country’s Eastern Cape. Siphiwe Dlamini, a Defense Ministry spokesman, declined to immediately comment Thursday morning.
Mthatha is about 30 kilometers (17 miles) north of Qunu, the village where Mandela now lives after retiring from public life. South Africa’s military remains largely responsible for the former president’s medical care. However, military officials declined to say whether those on board had any part in caring for Mandela.
In November, another South African military flight crash landed at Mthatha, sending several people to the hospital with injuries. However, at that time, the military denied that those on board had anything to do with Mandela’s care.
Mandela, 94, was imprisoned for nearly three decades for his fight against apartheid before becoming the nation’s president in the country’s first fully democratic vote in 1994.