7 January 2012

A hot air balloon crashes near Carterton, New Zealand. All 11 people on board are killed.

On 7 January 2012, a scenic hot air balloon flight from Carterton, New Zealand, collided with a high-voltage power line while attempting to land, causing it to catch fire, disintegrate and crash just north of the town, killing all eleven people on board.

An inquiry into the accident by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission concluded that the balloon pilot made an error of judgement when contact with the power lines became imminent, trying to out-climb the power lines rather than using the rapid descent system to drop the balloon quickly to the ground below. Toxicology analysis of the balloon pilot after the accident tested positive for tetrahydrocannabinol, suggesting he may have been under the influence of cannabis at the time of the crash, which ultimately led to the error in judgement. The crash was the sixth accident in ten years the TAIC had investigated which involved key people testing positive for drugs or alcohol, and the commission has called for the government to enact stricter measures in regards to drug and alcohol use in the aviation, marine and rail industries.

The crash was the deadliest air disaster to occur in mainland New Zealand since the July 1963 crash of New Zealand National Airways Corporation Flight 441 in the Kaimai Ranges, and the deadliest crash involving a New Zealand aircraft since the November 1979 crash of Air New Zealand Flight 901 into Mount Erebus. As of September 2016, it is the deadliest ever ballooning disaster in New Zealand, and the fourth deadliest worldwide, surpassed only by the balloon crash in Australia in 1989 that killed 13, the balloon crash in Texas in 2016 that killed 16 people, and the 2013 crash in Egypt that killed 19 people.

The balloon was a Cameron A-210 model, registered ZK-XXF and named Mr Big. The envelope was manufactured in the United Kingdom in 1997, and was initially used in the United Kingdom before being purchased and imported into New Zealand by Early Morning Balloons Ltd in 2001. The basket and burner system, capable of carrying ten passengers plus pilot, were manufactured in 1989 and were previously used with a Thunder and Colt 160A envelope before the envelope was retired at the end of its useful life.

The balloon took off at 6:38 am from its launching area in Carterton, a town of 4100 people in north-eastern Wellington Region, on a 45-minute scenic flight over the Carterton area, carrying ten passengers. The Masterton-based pilot was one of New Zealand’s most experienced balloon pilots, with more than 10,000 hours flying time, and was the safety officer for the “Balloons over Wairarapa” hot air balloon festival, held annually in March around the Carterton and Masterton area. The ten passengers were all from the greater Wellington Region: two husband-and-wife couples from Masterton and Wellington, a couple from Lower Hutt, a boyfriend and girlfriend from Wellington, and two cousins from Masterton and Paraparaumu. At the time, the weather was clear, with sufficient light and little wind. Data collected from weather stations at six nearby vineyards confirmed that the wind was mostly calm with occasional gusts up to 11.4 kilometres per hour from the north-east.

The accident occurred around 7:20 am, when the balloon was attempting to land after completing a partial figure-8 flight pattern over the Carterton area. The pilot had indicated to the chase team he was likely to land near Somerset Road, a rural through road just north of Carterton in the locality of Clareville. At first the balloon was heading north-east over Somerset Road, around 700 metres east of the road’s intersection with State Highway 2. Around 400 metres north of Somerset Road, the balloon reversed direction and headed back towards the road. The two chase vehicles, carrying some of the family members of the passengers, positioned on the road ready to assist with the landing.

Eyewitnesses saw the balloon climb and drift east towards a ten-metre high 33,000-volt power line running perpendicular to the road, one of the two lines that connected the Clareville zone substation, which supplied Carterton and the surrounding rural area, to the national grid at Transpower’s Masterton substation. The pilot was heard shouting “duck down” as the balloon came in contact with the power line around 85 metres from the road. One of the conductor wires was caught over the top of the pilot’s end of the basket, and the pilot attempted to get the balloon to climb, but the tension of the wire prevented it rising and instead the balloon slid along the conductor. Around 20 seconds later, electrical arcing occurred as the balloon caused a phase-to-phase short circuit, tripping the line and causing the 3800 properties supplied by the Clareville zone substation to lose power. The arcing caused one of the four liquefied petroleum gas bottles supplying the burners to rupture, and a fire subsequently started.

Two of the passengers jumped from the balloon to avoid the fire, falling ten metres to their deaths below. As the fire intensified, it caused the air inside the balloon to heat and force it to rise. Eventually, the conductor wire on the power line snapped, sending the balloon shooting upwards. The fire soon engulfed the whole balloon, and 150 metres in the air, the envelope disintegrated, causing the balloon to fall towards the ground, with the wreckage landing in a field just south of Somerset Road, around 600 metres east of the SH2 intersection.

Emergency services were on the scene within seven minutes but, shortly after they arrived, ambulance staff found that all eleven people had died at the scene, and this was later confirmed by police. The bodies of the two people who jumped from the balloon were located 200 metres from the crash site.

It took two days until 9 January to remove the last victims’ bodies from the crash site. All eleven victims’ bodies were taken to Wellington Hospital to be formally identified.

The wreckage was examined at the scene, before being packed into a shipping container and transported to the TAIC’s secure workshop in Wellington.

Power to the Carterton area was restored shortly after the crash using the remaining subtransmission line and spare capacity in the 11,000-volt distribution network until the damaged line was repaired. The damaged power line conductors were removed from the scene for examination.

A memorial was erected in January 2016 near the site of the disaster.

16 August 2012

Police in South Africa fatally shoot 34 miners and wound 78 more during an industrial dispute at Marikana near Rustenburg.

MARIKANA will for ever be infamous for the fatal shooting of 34 striking mineworkers by heavily armed policemen on August 16, 2012.
As many as 78 others were wounded on that fateful day, which is being commemorated today. The day marked one of the darkest days in post-apartheid South Africa.

Six years ago mineworkers at Lonmin mine in Marikana, near Rustenburg in the North West, went on a week-long wildcat strike to press for wage hikes. They were demanding R12500 as a minimum monthly salary. At the time most miners were earning about R4000.

As tensions, stoked by union rivalry, rose so too did the levels of violence. Ten people- six mineworkers, two Lonmin security officers and two policemen – were killed in the days leading up to what was to be known as the “Marikana Massacre”.

In the aftermath, some 275 locals were arrested and brought before the courts.

The annual commemoration of the massacre will again be held near the koppie at Nkaneng informal settlement in Marikana. There will be mixed emotions and reactions.

Last year, Amnesty International lamented that no one has been held responsible for the killings in Marikana.

The rights body called on South African authorities to ensure that those suspected of criminal responsibility in relation to the 2012 killings were brought to trial and that the victims and their families receive reparations, including adequate compensation.

In March last year, police watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, identified 72 police officers for prosecution in relation to their roles in the events at Marikana.

Years on, the situation in Marikana remains volatile, as evidenced during the murder trial of eight Marikana men convicted of killing Sabata Petros Chale in December 2016.

Chale, 39, was hacked to death by a group of about 200 men in a dispute over the allocation of RDP housing at Marikana’s Phase Two project, also known as Khabangena.

“Marikana is volatile since the massacre in 2012, there is political conflict between the EFF and the ANC,” defence lawyer Eric Marx told the court in mitigation of sentence at the trial.

Judge Ronnie Hendricks sentenced Aubrey Seitsang, 39, Sibonile Sobopha, 32, Herbert Baqhesi, 36, William Nyenyane, 33, Samson Gqwetani, 42, Gift Luveli, 39, Luvo Soyizwaphi, 32, and Mzolisi Mbulana, 48, each to 20 years in jail for killing Chale.

The blood has rarely stopped flowing and Marikana remains rife with division and tension amid a flurry of court cases stemming from the traumatic events of August 2012.

Mineworkers at Sibanye operations in nearby Kroondal indicated they would not be part of the Marikana commemoration and will instead go to work. They claim that union leaders have neglected them, focusing only on workers at Lonmin in Marikana and Impala mines.

“We will be at work. Mathunjwa knew people in Mari- kana and Impala” said one woman, employed at Kroondal, referring to the leader of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.

The commemoration comes at a time when eight policemen and a group of mineworkers are appearing in various courts for incidents leading up to the August 16 killings.

Former North West deputy provincial commissioner Major-General William Mpembe and eight other policemen are appearing in court on 15 counts relating to incidents before August 16. The senior police officer and his lieutenants were arrested in March and released on bail, and are expected to be back in the North West High Court on September 14.

Mpembe, 55, is accused of the murder of Semi Jokanisi, Tembelakhe Mati, Warrant Officer Hendrik Tsietsi Monene and Warrant Officer Sello Ronnie Lepaauku. He is also accused of the attempted murder of Zolile Honxo, Zwelitsha Mtshenwa, Muziwanele Mxinwa, Mzoxolo Zukulu, Sibongiseni Miya on August 13, 2012, in Marikana.

He is further charged alongside retired Colonel Salmon Johannes Vermaak, 53, Constable Nkosana Mguye, 38, Warrant Officer Masilo Mogale, 49, Warrant Officer Katlego Joseph Sekgweleya, 39, and Khazamola Phillip Makhubela, 49, for the murder of Pumzile Sokhanyile.

Mpembe also faces other charges of defeating the ends of justice, contravention of the Ipid Act, as well as contravention of the Commission Act.

Vermaak also faces charges of defeating the ends of justice and contravention of the Commission Act. In this case he is charged alongside Gideon van Zyl, Dingaan Madoda and Oupa Pule.

Van Zyl, Madoda and Pule are accused of defeating the ends of justice and contravention of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate Act. They allegedly failed to disclose that mineworker Modisaotsile van Wyk Sagalala died in custody while being transported to Lonmin premises on August 16, 2012.

On the other hand, Anele Zonke, Xolani Nzuzu, Simphiwe Booi, Khanyile Kanyise, Mzoxolo Magidiwana, Samekelo Mkhize, Amanda Nogwaza, Thobile Tyobeni, Mzukisi Soyini, Bongile Mpotye, Zamikhaya Ndude, Sithembele Sohadi, Loyiso Mtsheketshe, Zolile Honxo, Zwelitsha Mtshena, Mziwanele Mxinwa and Mzoxolo Zukulu are facing 26 counts, ranging from murder, to attempted murder, malicious damage to property, robbery, unlawful possession of firearm as well as unlawful possession of ammunition.

Their case was postponed to February 4 next year, pending an application they made at the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, to review former National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams’s decision to prosecute them.

Nineteen mineworkers were initially arrested but Majeke Nonkonyana and Dlunga Tholakele have since died.

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa said most of the recommendations that came out of the Farlam Commission of Inquiry, set up to investigate the events in Marikana, have still to be acted upon, and investigations into politicians implicated in the tragedy seem to have been stonewalled.

“Compensation for the families has partially been agreed. The state is digging in its heels on claims relating to general and constitutional damages which include emotional shock, grief and the loss of family life,” the economic rights body said.

“The injured and arrested have not yet been offered compensation they feel is acceptable for wrongful arrest, incarceration and injury.”

14 December 2012

Twenty-eight people, including the gunman, are killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut.

A 20-year-old man wearing combat gear and armed with semiautomatic pistols and a semiautomatic rifle killed 26 people — 20 of them children — in an attack in an elementary school in central Connecticut on Friday. Witnesses and officials described a horrific scene as the gunman, with brutal efficiency, chose his victims in two classrooms while other students dove under desks and hid in closets.

Hundreds of terrified parents arrived as their sobbing children were led out of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in a wooded corner of Newtown, Conn. By then, all of the victims had been shot and most were dead, and the gunman, identified as Adam Lanza, had committed suicide. The children killed were said to be 5 to 10 years old.
The rampage, coming less than two weeks before Christmas, was the nation’s second-deadliest school shooting, exceeded only by the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, in which a gunman killed 32 people and then himself.

21 November 2012

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A bomb is thrown onto a bus in Tel Aviv, wounding 28 people.

The 2012 Tel Aviv bus bombing was a mass-injury terror attack carried out on November 21, 2012, on a crowded passenger bus driving in the center of Tel Aviv’s business district. The attack was carried out by an Israeli citizen of Arab descent, who remotely detonated an explosive device, which he had hid on the bus in advance. 28 civilians were injured in the attack, among them three who were injured seriously. The attack was not a suicide bombing, and police said they are investigating whether the attacker left a bomb on the bus or threw something on and ran. Police did say that one man was seen fleeing the site, but would not confirm reports that a suspect had been arrested. It was the first mass-injury terror attack in Tel Aviv since the 2006 Tel Aviv shawarma restaurant bombing, in which 11 people were killed and 70 were injured.