A well-known Namibian flight instructor and an aviation engineer associated with the Swakopmund Flying School lost their lives in a helicopter crash during a test flight on Monday afternoon.
The incident occurred east of the main Swakopmund airfield.
The deceased, both Namibian males, were conducting a post-maintenance test flight after fixing new rotary blades to the helicopter.
“While up in the air, it is suspected that the pilot lost control of the helicopter, resulting in it crashing and causing the death of both the pilot and the engineer,” said Erongo police spokesperson inspector Ileni Shapumba.
The victims have been identified as Jacques Jacobs (54), a flying instructor, and engineer Dirk von Weidts (29) – a recent groom.
The incident, witnessed by staff at the airport, spurred a swift response from fire and rescue services, E-Med Rescue 24, and the owner of the Swakopmund Flight School.
“The riskiest part was cutting the positive terminal of the battery. The fuel is highly combustible, so we had to work closely in the sand,” said a paramedic with E-Med Rescue 24.
He said they worked with the police, police reservists, fire and rescue, and the neighbourhood watch “to preserve the dignity of the deceased and to preserve evidence” for a thorough Namibia Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) investigation.
Regardless of hundreds of curious onlookers surrounding the scene, the crash site was meticulously handled, with every step taken to preserve the integrity of the scene for an investigation led by Dr Henk Koster, the medical director of NCAA, who was a close friend of Jacobs.
Koster ensured detailed pictures were taken and oversaw the safe extraction of the bodies from the wreckage.
The Swakopmund Flying School and local flying community has been left devastated, with the outpouring of grief and support being considerable on social media where fellow pilots and friends have expressed their sorrow.
Many remember Jacobs as a ‘perfect wingman’, ‘incredible instructor’, and ‘remarkable friend’.
“Jacques will never be forgotten. Rest in peace,” wrote Jacobs’ colleague Jan Friede.
“The Swakopmund airfield will never be the same again without this man … and Namibia’s aviation industry is much poorer after this terrible loss.”
Matthias Braune wrote: “You left too early! You left enjoying what you loved most, am cool with that! RIP Jacques Jacobs; will miss you!”
The younger Von Weidts was described as a “happy person, always there for others” by Madelaine Koeglenberg, a close friend of his family.
“He always had a smile on his face,” she said.
The accident has been particularly heartrending for Von Weidts’ young bride, after marrying in May.
She has been left devastated, said Koeglenberg.
The Swakopmund Flying School was launched in 2006 by Jacobs. It has since grown into a successful business, offering a range of training services under new management, with Jacobs serving as chief flight instructor.
The Directorate of Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigations in the Ministry of Works and Transport has been informed, and are attending to the scene, while the police will also conduct an inquest into the incident.
The helicopter’s cabin lay crushed just east of the airfield next to the highway, while the tail was lying several hundred metres away from the main wreckage.
Transport ministry spokesperson Julius Ngweda said the wreckage would be moved to Eros Airport in Windhoek for further investigation by aviation accident specialists.
“The transport minister is expected to deliver an incident report with findings within the next month,” he said.
Jabobs’ wife Vienne said a memorial service would be held at 11h00 on Saturday at the Swakopmund Flying School.