Senior Air Force chief discharged over doomed flight that killed 2 pilots

Josiah Tungamirai Air Force Base Commander Air Commodore Marcelino Jakuvos Jaya pays his respects to Wing Commander Daniel Manyenga at the air base
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HARARE – An Air Force of Zimbabwe trainer aircraft which crashed on February 2 killing two experienced pilots was not fit to fly after it crash-landed in bad weather just hours earlier, ZimLive can reveal.

A top Air Force official has now been discharged over his role in the fatal decisions that led to the deaths of the two airmen.

Group Captain Bensen Munyanduki, 50, and Wing Commander Daniel Manyenga, 37, died when their SF260 trainer aircraft flew into electric lines as it struggled to gain height shortly after take-off near Mlezu College in Kwekwe.

Air Commodore Marcelino Jakuvos Jaya, the Base Commander of the former Thornhill Air Base in Gweru, now Josiah Tungamirai Air Force Base, has left the Air Force in ignominy, taking the fall for giving the fateful instruction to the two pilots to fly the stricken aircraft.

Bottom up … The wreckage of the Air Force of Zimbabwe jet which went down in Gweru killing two pilots

A military source said: “A tribunal found that after the aircraft first crash-landed, Air Commodore Jaya was given specific instructions by AFZ Commander Air Marshal Elson Moyo to put the aircraft on a low-bed truck and take it to the air base.

“Instead, Jaya ignored a lawful instruction and decided to send our best two pilots on a doomed mission to fly an aircraft that had not been properly assessed by engineers after the earlier incident when it crash-landed. The aircraft failed to pick up height leading to the tragic deaths of the two pilots.”

ZimLive understands the SF260 – one of six military trainer aircraft acquired from Italy in 1998 – first flew on a training mission to Zvishavane with different pilots.

When the pilots were returning to Josiah Tungamirai Air Force Base, they flew into bad weather and were forced to crash-land the aircraft on a dirt road.

The Air Force sent a recovery mission and the two pilots, who had no serious injuries, were transported to hospital for assessment.

What followed, according to military sources, was a catastrophic call by Air Commodore Jaya to ignore instructions from senior officers to recover the aircraft with a truck.

He, instead, instructed Munyanduki and Manyenga to fly the aircraft back to base. They crashed shortly after take-off, robbing the Air Force of two of its best pilots.

Jaya was promoted to the role in 2019.

Questions sent to the Air Force of Zimbabwe had not been answered. – ZimLive