Virginia Keppler, Antoinette Slabbert (Beeld) and Anesca Smith (Die Burger)
Pretoria – “Pieces of wreckage and bodies lay strewn over a distance of 800m. There was no sign of life.
“It wasn’t a pretty sight. They were friends and colleagues and people we knew,” said Juan Wolmarans, one of the first people at the scene of the plane crash in Libya on Wednesday morning.
At least seven South Africans died in the crash.
The Airbus on which they were flying left from South Africa and crashed near the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
Altogether 103 people died – most of them tourists from the Netherlands on their way to Europe from South Africa. A 10-year-old Dutch boy miraculously survived.
Flight 8U771 of Libyan carrier Afriqiyah Airways crashed at about 06:00, just before it was supposed to land at Tripoli. According to a Libyan newspaper, the pilot of the Airbus A330-200 told air traffic controllers that they were experiencing problems shortly before the crash.
Ploughed through trees, buildings, vehicles
According to Wolmarans, 36, an operations manager at Global Aviation’s office in Tripoli, he was waiting for a colleague, Cathrine Tillett, who was on the flight.
Tillett, 44, an aviation training officer at Global Aviation in Johannesburg, died along with two former colleagues who retired recently, Norbert Taferner and his wife, Paula.
“The plane hit the ground about a kilometre from runway number 9. Then it ploughed through trees, several buildings and some vehicles,” said Wolmarans.
He said the weather was very bad.
“Visibility was poor. When I got to the scene, the tail of the Airbus was the only part that was still recognisable. Pieces of wreckage lay everywhere. It was gruesome.”
DA MP Anchen Dreyer’s brother, 50-year-old Frans Dreyer, a businessman from Menlo Park in Pretoria and an experienced pilot, was among the South African victims.
Dreyer was at Parliament when she received a call with the news that her brother, a husband and father of two, had been in a plane crash.
She boarded the first available flight to Gauteng to be with her family.
According to Dreyer, her brother did business with the Libyan government, among others, which was the reason for his trip.
“The first time we thought something might be wrong was when his business contacts in Libya called his office in Stellenbosch on Wednesday morning, saying he hadn’t arrived there yet. ”
“Over the course of the day we heard about the accident on the news and my mother, Marié, 80, just knew immediately that he was on that flight.”
A heartbroken Dreyer told Die Burger: “My dad, Thomas, 88, had wished Frans a pleasant journey and a safe return just before he left for OR Tambo airport.”
The DA MP said that Frans’ wife, Estelle, is in a state of shock.
Family in severe shock
Robert Eduard Weber, 41, an employee of engineering firm BKS Global, was also on the flight. His colleagues were waiting for him at the airport in Tripoli when they “heard a loud crash”.
Weber, 41, was on his way back to Libya after spending a week with his wife, Anneke, 43, and their two children, aged 4 and 8, in Roodepoort.
“We immediately started making arrangements for (his colleagues) to receive counselling. It’s been a tremendous shock,” said Ken Joiner, director of BKS Global, from Libya.
Coenraad Kukkuk, attorney and spokesperson for the Weber family, said the family is in a state of severe shock.
“Robert has been working on contract in Libya for the past two years.
“He came home for a few days every two or three months to visit his family.”
According to the company AirQuarius, one of its senior managers was also on the plane. Company spokesperson Michael Goodwin said the man was from Johannesburg, but would not release further details.
The Airbus departed from Johannesburg on Tuesday night at 21:30. The Libyan airline is popular among passengers flying from South Africa to European cities such as London.
There were 93 passengers and 11 crew on board, of which 62 passengers, including the boy who survived, were from the Netherlands. The rescued Dutch boy was admitted to hospital in a stable condition with head injuries and bone fractures.
There were 13 Libyan passengers on board, two Germans, one Zimbabwean, one Filipino and one Briton.
The Dutch passengers were members of two tour groups who were on their way to Dusseldorf and Brussels respectively.
Going to promote SA
One of the Dutch passengers, Jeannette van Oeveren, 44, was returning to her country where she was going to promote South African tourism after attending a tourism indaba in Durban last weekend.
Her friend, Annelie Bronkhorst, said on Wednesday she had tried to convince Van Oeveren to stay on in the country after the indaba ended, “but her plane ticket was already booked so she decided not to stay”.
Van Oeveren, a former South African, moved to the Netherlands with her husband Rob in 1991, where she promoted tours to South Africa under the Kaia Travel brand.
This was the first time she attended the tourism indaba.
“Before the indaba, she went on a tour to explore the Wild Coast. She met many people (during the indaba) and was really excited to start working,” said a sad Bronkhorst.
Terrorism ruled out
The two friends would have flown back to the Netherlands together, but Bronkhorst was sceptical about Afriqiyah Airways and preferred to travel with KLM.
Van Oeveren, however, was won over by Afriqiyah’s cheaper tickets.
Bronkhorst, who saw Van Oeveren off at the airport, says the whole situation still seems unreal.
“We shared a room at the indaba. She was an eternal optimist who was always laughing and encouraging people. People like her leave a big void when they’re gone.”
Mohammed Ali Zidan, Libyan minister of transport, ruled out the possibility of terrorists being involved in the crash, the Associated Press has reported.
The flight’s black boxes were retrieved from the wreckage on Wednesday afternoon.