JOHANNESBURG – A military plane carrying 11 passengers has crashed in South Africa’s mountainous east.
The plane, which had been travelling from Pretoria to Mthatha, went missing on Wednesday but the initial search was abandoned due to poor weather.
The wreckage was found in the Drakensberg Mountains, near Ladysmith, in KwaZulu-Natal province.
Unconfirmed reports said that those on board included members of Nelson Mandela’s medical team.
A spokesman for the defence department, Siphiwe Dlamini, has refused to confirm or deny the reports, saying it was an operational matter.
Brig Gen Xolani Mabanga said that the aircraft had taken off from Pretoria’s Waterkloof Air Force Base on Wednesday night, according to the Associated Press. He said soldiers had been sent to the scene to look for survivors.
The remains of the aircraft were found some 210 miles (340km) south-east of the Waterkloof air base.
The wreckage of the Douglas DC-3 Dakota, a twin-propeller aircraft, is reported to be spread over a wide area near the Giant’s Castle, a famous peak on a steep escarpment.
Mthatha’s small airport in Eastern Cape province is situated some 17 miles (30km) from Mr Mandela’s rural homestead of Qunu, where the former president has lived since retiring from public life.
The BBC’s Andrew Harding, in Johannesburg, says the military are responsible for the health of the 94-year-old anti-apartheid hero and a medical team travels regularly to his home.
According to AP, another South African military flight crash-landed at Mthatha’s airport in November and several people were injured. The military denied that those on board had anything to do with Mr Mandela’s care.