THE Air Force of Zimbabwe deployed a defective helicopter to Chimanimani which failed to do anything on its first day after the weather finally cleared to permit them to make an aerial assessment of the Cyclone Idai-hit Chimanimani and Rusitu valley.
A private Bob Henson-owned helicopter working with Chimanimani Tourist Association (CTA) was left to shoulder the work as the faulty military chopper had to return to its Chipinge base without doing anything on its first day.
The army, sources said, had to request the private helicopter that has been running errands in the inaccessible district to ferry them to Rusitu Valley to assess the situation.
“There was a plan to fly in formation with the AFZ … to Mutambara at their request then see if any doctors arrived to take them to where they are needed. Sadly, this didn’t happen because of a fault with their helicopter, so the private chopper flew off without patients deciding to go ahead with assessing roads. The AFZ later flew off to Chipinge, without any patients,” the disappointed source said.
The private helicopter, however, also later managed to assess the Wengezi to Chimanimani road as well as getting medical personnel to Mashonjowa where they were needed.
Doug van de Ruit, who owns Chimanimani Farm House with his wife Tempe and are also housing two South African tourists who were stranded in Chimanimani, said the helicopter was a life saver.
According to a report to CTA on work covered by the helicopter, the private chopper on Monday managed to explore all roads into Chimanimani from Chipinge and Mutare as well as getting medication from Mutambara.
He suggested that efforts to create access into Chimanimani and heavily affected areas be focused on the Chipinge to Rusitu Valley road as the Skyline route needed more work.
He said he was overwhelmed by emotions at how hard players in the tourism sector and Chimanimani residents had pulled together in the face of the disaster.
“A huge thank you to all, for unbelievable support. It brings tears to my eyes,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) has applauded CTA which has emerged as front leaders in search, rescue and relief operations in the Cyclone Idai-ravaged tourist resort district of Chimanimani.
In a WhatsApp message to the organisation that is offering hotels and lodges in the area to victims and is mobilising resources as well as a private helicopter to fly in medical personnel, medicines and evacuate critically-injured victims, ZTA acting CEO Rita
Likukuma said her organisation would also support their efforts.
“We applaud you all for the sterling work you are doing 24/7 to offer relief to the affected. You have our full support as we on this end mobilise the requisite materials needed,” Likukuma said.