The South African Air Force has announced that an Oryx helicopter was attacked on February 5 when a sniper’s bullet pierced through the helicopter’s side window, killed a crew member, and badly injured the pilot.
The South African National Defense Force (SANDF) spokesperson, Siphiwe Dlamini, said its personnel serving in the eastern city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was killed in the line of duty on February 5.
Spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said, “A crew member was fatally shot. Another suffered an injury but continued flying the helicopter and landed safely at Goma Airport. The SANDF is in the process of informing family members of the soldiers involved in this unfortunate incident.”
According to the UN mission known as MONUSCO (UN Stabilization Mission in Congo), the peacekeeping force piloted the Oryx military chopper that was targeted. The attack reportedly occurred after the Oryx helicopter took off from the city of Beni in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to a United Nations incident report, the flight engineer Sergeant Vusi Mabena was wounded in the chest, and the commander Major Omolemo Matlapeng was shot in the shoulder. Mabena died while being transported to the hospital by another Oryx.
The preliminary assessment suggests that a single bullet reportedly struck both aircrew members from a sniper rifle as they approached a low-altitude ridge.
The Oryx and Rooivalk helicopters have been fired upon while on deployment in the DRC. At least two Oryx have been struck by small weapons fire in the DRC over the past ten years. A Rooivalk once had its tail shot off by one.
Typically, the Oryx helicopters operate with Rooivalk or Mi-24 escorts providing cover, but due to budget cuts and decreased funding, MONUSCO is no longer able to call on attack helicopters to protect them from ground fire.
As a result, MONUSCO transport helicopters are now required to operate in dangerous environments without adequate top protection from auxiliary assets.
Eight UN troops were murdered in March of last year when the Pakistan Army Puma chopper they were traveling in crashed over an area where the Congolese army and M23 insurgents were engaged in conflict. The plane is thought to have been shot down while conducting a reconnaissance mission close to the Ugandan border.
Oryx Military Helicopter
South African engineers created the utility helicopter known as the Oryx. The French Aerospatial Puma has been updated and reverse-engineered to develop this aircraft. The Atlas Aircraft company built the Oryx.
It replaced the older Puma and Super Frelon helicopters in South African service. The Oryx’s existence was maintained as a closely guarded secret. It was only in 1991 that it was first revealed to the public. Currently, the South African Air Force operates about 35 of these helicopters.
Although the Oryx is based on the Puma, it features, particularly its engines, are similar to the Super Puma. The initial prototype of the Oryx helicopter performed better than expected. According to reports, it roughly matched that of the Super Puma.
Two Turbomeca Makila 1A1 turboshaft engines, each producing 1877 horsepower, power the Oryx. Even if one engine breaks during a flight, the other has enough power to land at the starting point. The management system immediately increases the power setting on the remaining engine in such an emergency.
The South African Air Force uses these helicopters for quick troop deployment. The Oryx can transport 20 fully outfitted soldiers. Alternatively, it can also carry an array of materials, including six stretchers with four medical personnel. The Oryx has an internal kilogram capacity of 3000 kilograms and an external capacity of 4500 kilograms.
It is possible to equip the Oryx with two door-mounted machine guns. Without guidance, the helicopter can carry other armaments, such as missile pods. Further, the Oryx has sponson fuel tanks, which increase its range.
The M23 rebel group, which has taken control of large areas of land in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, vowed to withdraw from a critical front-line position in December last year. The DRC has charged its smaller neighbor Rwanda with supporting the M23 gang.
In these rebel-held territories, the DRC and the UN peacekeeping forces operate the Oryx helicopter for transporting men and materials.