Skip to main content

South African copter crash kills 5 soldiers on rhino patrol

By Faith Karimi, CNN
updated 8:47 PM EDT, Sun March 31, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Zuma expresses condolences to the families of fallen soldiers
  • Last week, South Africa lost 13 soldiers in the Central African Republic
  • Nearly 200 rhinos have been poached in the nation this year, a majority at Kruger
  • Demand for rhinos is surging over unsubstantiated beliefs about their medicinal purposes

(CNN) -- Five South African soldiers died in a helicopter crash while patrolling for rhino poachers in the sprawling Kruger National Park.

All aboard the flight were killed in the crash Saturday night, according to a government spokesman.

The soldiers were conducting Operation Rhino, which aims to combat rampant poaching at the park.

"On behalf of government and the entire nation, we wish to express our sincere condolences to the families of these five soldiers and may their souls rest in peace," President Jacob Zuma said in a statement.

An investigation is under way to determine the cause of the crash.

Conservation group Save the Rhino estimates that there are 25,000 rhinos in Africa. Of those, about 21,000 live in South Africa.

A record number of rhinos were killed in South Africa last year, fueled by the belief that their horns can cure cancer.

The unsubstantiated belief on their healing powers is spreading in southeast Asia, sending clients paying top dollar for the horns.

In an effort to combat poaching, South Africa has cracked down on the illegal trade and teamed up with countries that serve as destinations for the rhino horns.

South Africa signed an agreement with China last week to work together to reduce poaching.

So far this year, 188 rhinos have been poached nationwide, 135 of them at Kruger, according to government numbers released last week.

The crash adds to a grim toll for the South African military.

Last week, it lost 13 soldiers in the Central African Republic capital of Bangui, where they were helping the local military quash a rebel uprising.

CNN's Jennifer Deaton contributed to this report

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
This looks like a ghost ship, but it's actually the site of a tense international standoff between the Philippines and China.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
The reported firing of artillery from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle, says CNN's military analyst Rick Francona.
updated 4:46 AM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
The young boy stops, stares, throws ammunition casings at the reporter's feet without a word.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
A picture taken on June 28, 2014 shows a member of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) putting on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, where people infected with the Ebola virus are being treated. The World Health Organization has warned that Ebola could spread beyond hard-hit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to neighbouring nations, but insisted that travel bans were not the answer.
The worst ebola outbreak in history spreads out of control in West Africa. CNN's Michael Holmes reports.
updated 8:48 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Sure, Fido is a brown Lab. But inside, he may also be a little green.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
ITN's Dan Rivers reports from the hospital where those injured by an attack in Gaza were being treated.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Photograph of an undisclosed location by Patrycja Makowska
Patrycja Makowska likes to give enigmatic names to the extraordinarily beautiful photographs she shoots of crumbling palaces.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
When the Costa Concordia and its salvage convoy finally depart Giglio, the residents will breathe a sigh of relief -- and shed a tear.
updated 2:08 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Flight attendants are wearing black ribbons to show solidarity with fallen colleagues in "a tribute to those who never made it home."
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT