South Africa military plane crashes in mountains

JON GAMBRELL Associated Press Published:

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- A South African military aircraft on an unknown mission to an area near former President Nelson Mandela's village crashed in a mountain range, officials said Thursday. It was unclear whether there were any survivors.

The Douglas C-47TP Dakota, a twin-propeller aircraft, had taken off from Pretoria's Waterkloof Air Force Base on Wednesday morning, said Brig. Gen. Xolani Mabanga, a military spokesman. The aircraft met bad weather in flight and failed to make its 10 a.m. landing.

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. The Drakensberg, which in the local Afrikaans language means Dragon Mountains, have the highest peaks in South Africa, reaching to a height of about 3,400 meters (11,400 feet).

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. Its destination was Mthatha in the country's Eastern Cape. Siphiwe Dlamini, a Defense Ministry spokesman, declined to 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.

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.

___

Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .