The South African pilot who died when his helicopter crashed in Zambia was actively involved in rescue operations in his home country, his friends said on Friday.
Netcare911 spokesperson Chris Botha said he worked with Captain Mike O’Donnell, 41, when he started at the SA Police Service.
“I flew many rescue missions with him where we had to extract patients from difficult situations.
“Everything about him was always about safety,” Botha said.
“We did a lot of training sessions together. When you knew he was flying he was like a rock.
“He was a phenomenal pilot and a friend.”
Frans Haasbroek, himself a former police pilot, said O’Donnell had been close friend of his for 20 years.
“He flew in the SANDF [SA National Defence Force]… he was an extremely dedicated policeman and excellent pilot,” Haasbroek told News24.
“He chalked up a huge amount of flying hours, risking his own life for others doing rescues across the province of KZN.
“It is an extremely sad day for all of us who knew him and it is certainly a loss to the police force and the aviation fraternity at large.
“It is also a massive knock to his friends and family.”
Haasbroek said O’Donnell was flying the six-seater Eurocopter B3 Squirrel from Angola to Zambia on Thursday when it crashed.
The cause of the crash was not immediately apparent, however it was rumoured that the helicopter had a tail rotor failure.
Department of international relations spokesperson Clayson Monyela could not confirm the incident.
“I am still waiting for information on it,” he said on Friday afternoon.
Zambian media initially reported that the crash involved a fixed-wing aircraft.-News24