CAPTIVE PILOTS HOPE TO BE FREED TODAY: DAILY DISPATCH

TWENTY Eastern Cape aviation tourists prevented for three days from flying from Ondangwa airport in Namibia by heavily armed security forces, have stopped speaking to the media.

There was confusion yesterday afternoon, with some reports claiming a fresh round of charges would be brought against the 12 pilots and their eight passengers for failing to obtain flyover and landing permits from Namibia.

The Daily Dispatch called one of the aviators yesterday afternoon and heard whispered: “We are busy right now! We hope to be out by (last night). But we have agreed not to speak to the media.”

Calls to other aviators went unanswered.

Eastern Cape DA leader in the legislature Bobby Stevenson lashed out yesterday saying: “It is shocking that tourists to a country can be treated in this heavy-handed way. This is complete overkill.”

He called on the SA government to put more effort into assisting its citizens, saying: “People in large numbers from another country can fly in and land at our military base at Waterkloof without the correct papers, and the government rolls out the red carpet.

“But when our people are in trouble in another country, our government does not appear to have the will to resolve the matter.”

Stevenson was asking the DA in Parliament to take up the plight of the stranded group with the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirc).

Dirc spokesman Clayson Monyela said: “From day one the South African embassy has been dealing with the matter.”

On Monday, one of the group, Sharon McGillewie of Grahamstown, said they applied to the Namibian Civil Aviation Authority for permission to fly over Namibia but were told to arrange it through the Namibia Microlight Association, which they did, except for one form which was not returned.

McGillewie said they were told it would be easily obtained on landing in Namibia.

But when the planes landed at Ondangwa they were accosted by heavily armed police and soldiers, who arrested the 12 pilots.

The tour group’s on-theground manager Lindy Nel said they were briefed by a senior Namibian aviation official yesterday, who said the papers could take three hours or three days.

On Monday, the aviators said they had negotiated a settlement with the authorities on an admission of guilt fine of R400 per pilot, which was endorsed by a court order.

They said this was paid on Monday night. —