Lowvelder (South Africa)

Breaking news: Suspected poachers arrested despite pursuing aircraft going down

The pilot had been assessed by the Skukuza resident doctor and was then flown to Nelspruit MediClinic for a thorough check up.

17 hours ago

KNP regional ranger and pilot Steven Whitfield in the Foxbat when it arrived at Skukuza in October. The craft went down in pursuit of suspected poachers today. Photo Mariana Balt

Despite sustaining a gash to his head and other lacerations, Steven Whitfield was still more concerned about the loss of his fairly-new Foxbat A22LS aircraft in the war against rhino poachers, than about himself.

This Marula North regional ranger and pilot of the Kruger National Park (KNP) went down in the Kingfisherspruit section this afternoon, while in pursuit of suspected poachers.

According to Whitfield he experienced an engine failure but managed to put down the aircraft.

The incident was confirmed by SANParks media specialist Ike Phaahla. “Details are still sketchy at the moment but we are thankful that he is alive.”

He added that rangers arrested the two suspected poachers.

“The pilot had been assessed by the Skukuza resident doctor and was then flown to Nelspruit MediClinic for a thorough check up.”

On Saturday evening Whitfield’s wife Heleen expressed her relief about his miraculous survival. “If he wasn’t such a good pilot, he would not have been able to put down the aircraft. He sustained minor injuries and was not even admitted to hospital. It really is a miracle and I am very grateful to God.”

Managing executive of the KNP, Glenn Phillips, also expressed his relief that there were no fatalities. “We are grateful that the pilot seems fine and we will give him all the support to get through this traumatic experience. Our prayers are with him and his family and we wish him a speedy recovery”.

Investigations are underway in order to determine the exact cause of the incident.

Lowvelder reported on the arrival of this aircraft in October 2018. At the time Whitfield described the presence of the Foxbat as pivotal in the anti-poaching struggle.

Read more about aircraft used in anti-poaching efforts here and here.

The cost-effective Foxbat played an essential role in monitoring rhinos, identifying and responding to threats, and ensure that Kruger’s anti-poaching unit is better equipped when it comes to combating increasingly sophisticated gangs of rhino poachers.

Whitfield later confirmed that the craft had been successful in several arrests, even during its maiden expedition.

The aircraft was donated by the MyPlanet Rhino Fund and financed by supporters swiping their MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet cards at participating retailers.

The Foxbat was based at Satara, in a newly built hangar that was jointly funded between MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet and StopRhinoPoaching.com.