A hair-raising incident which forced President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s presidential helicopter to dramatically land over 60 kilometres south-west of Harare last weekend has left terrified the whole hierarchy who are now in quandary and without a reliable fleet.
The sources said Mnangagwa, who frequently flies out of Harare to his Precabe Farm in Sherwood, Kwekwe, was rattled and terrified by the incident which forced him into a scary emergency while on his way back to Harare.
Upon the incident, Mnangagwa’s security details, including an aide-de-camp, marksman from the Presidential Guard, a medic and intelligence officers, scrambled to cordon off the scene, as the team also worked out an emergency rescue plan to complete their 45-minute journey.
“The incident happened in Sandringham. A probe into what happened to the President’s chopper is currently underway. Whenever the President is not flying the chopper, the helicopter will be parked at Manyame Air Base in Harare and it’s usually flown when he visits his Sherwood farm or when he wants to travel to remote areas,” a source said.
“From Manyame, it usually picks him up from his state residence, but sometimes it lands at Morris Depot grounds where it would be under police guard. While many people think that he has bought a new chopper, it’s not true, the helicopter which was forced to make an emergency landing is an old one which was resprayed.
“Initially it had been agreed after the incident that he should be picked up to complete the journey by road, but while the motorcade was on its way, a second helicopter was sent to fly him back home.”
The Air Force, which maintains Mnangagwa’s helicopter and military choppers that escort the President when he flies within the borders of the country, has been blighted by aviation accidents in recent years due to bad weather, human error and use of ageing aircraft.
The AFZ’s capability was largely decimated during the DRC War from 1998-2002, in which Zimbabwe lost hundreds of millions of dollars, hundreds of soldiers and equipment worth multi-millions. In a bid to replace the dilapidated equipment, Mnangagwa in April reportedly brought a new helicopter despite Zimbabwe’s economic deterioration and growing poverty.
A Russian Antonov AN-124 — the world’s third heaviest gross weight production cargo aircraft — was said to have delivered the chopper to Harare on 15 April which Mnangagwa plans to use during his 2023 re-election bid.
The Volga Dnepr-operated Antonov flew out of Rzeszów–Jasionka Airport in south-eastern Poland, 10km from the city of Rzeszów, and landed at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport carrying an Airbus Helicopters H215, an upgraded version of the ageing Eurocopter AS-532UL Cougar which Zimbabwe’s military has been using for VIP transportation.
However, security sources insisted that the helicopter Mnangagwa’s flying is an old repainted chopper.
Investigations underway on the incident, sources said, will involve the Air Force, intelligence services, Presidential Guard and aviation experts.
Mnangagwa, who has spoken several times about his passion for farming, including in his recently published biography, A Life of Sacrifice, often leaves his state residence in Harare on Sunday mornings for the farm where he grows several crops and rears livestock.
Earlier this month, he was forced to make a last-minute flight postponement to Mutare, where he was expected to officially open an industrial and medicinal oxygen plant — which he eventually did last week — due to bad weather.
“Strict protocols in maintaining the President’s chopper are expected to be enforced after the probe is concluded,” the source said.
Contacted for comment George Charamba, the country’s Presidential spokesman said he was not aware of the incident.
In April this year, three Air Force officers died when their helicopter crashed in Arcturus near Harare.
The horror crash of the Agusta Bell AB 412 killed two pilots, Wing Commander Thomas Tinashe Manyowa, Flight Lieutenant Anita Mapiye, as well as aircraft technician Flight Sergeant Tinodiwanashe Chikamhi.
The accident also claimed the life of 18-month-old Jade Pfenyere, who was on the ground. Flight Lieutenant Mapiye was the first female helicopter pilot in the AFZ and had become part of the VIP transport aircrew when she was killed in the accident.
Air Marshal Elson Moyo, commander of the Air Force, said a “dark cloud” had engulfed the military after the April crash.
In November 2020, an instructor and student pilot died after an Air Force plane crashed during a training session in the Midlands capital, Gweru.