Tears fall for crash victims

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Glenn Warden could barely contain his sobs when bag pipers started playing Amazing Grace yesterday at the memorial service at Ekurhuleni’s Rand Airport for the 13 victims of the Tzaneen plane crash.

Warden – whose wife, Louise, was killed when the two Albatross aircraft smashed into the Ramotswiri mountain at Ga-Maake Bakgaga village, near Tzaneen, on Sunday last week – was overcome by emotion as the pipers began playing the well-known hymn.

His friends and colleagues had nothing but comforting words for him. After hugging him and shaking his hands, one by one they told him: “Glenn, please remain strong.”

Lit candles, flowers, photographs of the two aircraft and of some of those who died, were displayed during the service.

Yesterday, two planes banked out of a missing-man formation in memory of the two aircraft that crashed – the highest honour that can be bestowed on fallen comrades in aviation.

Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele, whose son Thembekile, 24, was killed in a car accident in 1994, shared his personal pain with the bereaved family members.

He said the deaths of the 13 people – including three children, sisters Alexandra and Maddison Doak, 7 and 10 respectively, and teen Stuart van Oldenborgh – was the worst civil aviation disaster in the 25 years since the Helderberg disaster in 1987, in which an SAA Boeing 747 caught alight and exploded over the Indian Ocean, claiming 159 lives.

Ndebele promised a speedy investigation into the crashes and said his office expected a preliminary report to be completed within 30 days to help the families find closure.

“Time will heal the void you are feeling. Let us try to accept what has happened,” he said.

African Pilot magazine editor Athol Franz – who lost both his fiancee, Linda Pierce, and his friend of over 20 years, renowned photographer Frans Dely – said the three of them had “the most amazing time” before the tragedy.

He said he had flown separately out of Tzaneen 10 minutes after the two Albatrosses, unaware that they had crashed shortly after taking off.

“Linda and I were never apart; we shared so much time together. We belonged to the same wine club and enjoyed wine together every Tuesday,” he said, tears streaming down his face.

“I will remember her by her beautiful, wonderful smile. She always was kind. Not only did she possess outward beauty, she was the most amazing person I had ever met in my life.”

He said he told Pierce’s daughter, Jessica, 20, that, though she had lost a mother, she now had a father.

Erica Groch, 64, could barely contain her emotions as she spoke about her brother, Dely, 55.

“I’ll always remember him as a gentle giant who was always willing to give. He had a pure heart, he loved people, loved to share and he had a passion for water skiing. He was a wonderful person. It was like two lives merged into one.”

Pilot Pierre Gouws, who was involved in the rescue mission, paid an emotional tribute to the victims.

“Please take your time to treasure your time on earth and that of your loved ones,” he said.

Another speaker said: “Let us remember them all as the best of the best.”

The bodies of the 13 victims are still at the state mortuary in Pretoria pending their identification by the families.

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