Under the blistering heat of the Zambezi Valley, a National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority Cessna 182 light aircraft crashed in remote Chewore National Park on Friday October 23.
The plane which had four people on board; Petrus C. Villijeon the pilot and co-pilot Calvyn Van Den Berg (both South Africans) Exeverino Chinoitezvi a Zimbabwean ecologist ordinarily based in Sengwa in Midlands and Pradeep Singh, a wildlife consultant, was on mapping mission ahead of the start of an annual wildlife head count.
Counting wild animal populations in national parks is a critical factor in determining sustainable wildlife management and quota setting in hunting concessions. In this case they wanted to do a head count for herbivores in the Zambezi Valley including elephants, ahead of the rainy season.
Chewore is a wild, remote big game hunting paradise. Situated in the Zambezi Valley in Northern Zimbabwe, bordered to the west by Mana Pools National Park and Sapi safari area, to the east and south by Dande and Doma safari areas, for clients wanting real Africa, Chewore has been the place to be, sustainable hunting quota’s and top rate professional hunts all of whom the vegetation varies from Jesse bush, which is dense and thick, Mopane woodland, riverine and open grasslands.
In the Chewore, there are several rivers and springs that provide water for the game but are normally dry this time of the year. Chewore south is also where the Syntarsus Rhodesiensis — Dinosaur Tracks are found together with a few other dinosaur footprints, dating back to approximately 145–170 million years ago. This is both a Tsetse fly and a Malaria area.
What was the first flight to map out counting clusters, turned nasty when the low flying plane crashed and the wreckage was only found two days later on Sunday October 25.
The plane hit a huge tree and uprooted another, losing its wings in the process and damaging it underside, a source close to the search party said.
According to source, Villijeon was found dead on the spot while Singh and Van Den Berg were critically injured and found trapped in the wreckage. Chinoitezvi left his shoes, probably to seek help or in the heat of the moment and is still missing. The search is still on.
Chinoitezvi is a highly rated worker who joined ZimParks as a ranger, studied in situ and became an ecologist.
“It is a suspected engine failure, but that is subject to a complex investigation that might involve the manufacturer.
“The plane hit a huge tree and then uprooted another. It lost both wings in the process and damaged its underside.
“Chinoitezvi left his shoes at the scene by the plane, maybe at the confusion of the moment and has not been found. Without shoes, his feet are too soft to leave a hard spoor.
“Again, the ground foliage in the area is too difficult. There are croton and mopane trees that drop a lot of leaves and there is a carpet of dead leaves covering the ground for a vast swathe. This is what has made the search very difficult.
“Then there is a lot of wildlife, predators of all kind from lions to leopards and hyenas. Again, the high temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius, which are the norm this time of the year, take a lot of energy. He might have tried to get water but the most of the rivers in the area are dry this time of the year, except the Zambezi which is more than 20km from the crash site,’’ said the source.
Chinoitezvi is a highly regarded as a dedicated worker who started as a low-raking ranger, studied in situ and became an ecologist. Last year, he graduated with a Masters Degree in Ecology and has since enrolled for a PhD.
However, Parks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo, yesterday said the search is far from being abandoned.
“The search is still on and we hope to find our colleague soon. We are grateful to our partners for all the efforts they are putting. We are still hoping to reunite with our colleague,’’ he said.
The Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) joined the search for and has brought in a lot of expertise.
“The search is on. We are still desperately looking for our colleague and we hope to find him soon. We are grateful to the support rendered by our partners.
Two survivors, have since been transferred from Kariba to Harare for specialist medical care.
Early this week, AFZ commander Air Marshal Elson Moyo released a helicopter and ordered the deployment of two pilots and an engineer to join the search mission.
The Cessna 182 is an American four-seat, single-engine light utility airplane built by Cessna of Wichita, Kansas.
It has a luggage compartment and the option of adding two child seats in the baggage area.
First introduced in 1956, the 182 has been produced in a number of variants, including a version with retractable landing gear.
It is known to be very reliable and is the second most popular Cessna model still in production, after the 172.