A sombre atmosphere engulfed Manyame Air Base yesterday as relatives, workmates and friends gathered at a funeral parade held by the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) in honour of the aircrew of the Agusta Bell 412 helicopter that crashed in the Hukuru Area in Arcturus, Mashonaland East Province last week
Two pilots, Wing Commander Thomas Tinashe Manyowa and Flight Lieutenant Anita Mapiye and aircraft technician Flight Sergeant Tinodiwanashe Chikamhi perished in the crash which also killed one person on the ground.
The three will be buried today with Wing Commander Manyowa’s interment taking place in Chinhoyi, while Flight Lieutenant Mapiye will be buried at Glen Forest Memorial Park in Harare.
Flight Sergeant Chikamhi will be buried at Mucheke Cemetery in Masvingo.
Defence and War Veterans Affairs Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri said the death of the air crew left a big void in the defence forces.
“We are all gathered here to pay our last respects and give a befitting send-off to the two gallant sons and a daughter of the soil who lost their livers while dedicating their hearts to the nation. It is very recent when they flew the Vice President and myself from Kwekwe on national duty. The gap they have left behind is difficult to fill,” she said.
Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri said Flight Lieutenant Mapiye, who was the country’s first female combat helicopter pilot was an inspiration to many young women in the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
“Many young girls took a leaf from Anita’s inspiration. We are currently recruiting throughout the country and we have seen a massive turn up of the girl child due to the inspiration of people like her,” she said.
Air Commodore Elisha Masakadza said it was sad to bid farewell to the dedicated air crew.
“Indeed, it is with a heavy heart that we have to bid farewell to the three reliable and committed crew members who were taken from our midst in a violent and horrific manner when the helicopter they were flying crashed and burst into a raging inferno last week,” he said.
“Truly, the AFZ has been left in shock, disbelief and in a state of depression following this tragic accident that robbed us our beloved comrades whose passion to serve the organisation and the country were unquestionable. We express our heartfelt condolences to their families.”
Earlier, the AFZ said it was with the bereaved families in mourning the aircrew contrary to malicious reports from some sections of the media aimed to draw a wedge between the families and the organisation.
AFZ said such reports were not only malicious, but insensitive as it and the families of the deceased were grappling to come to terms with the loss of the dearly departed crew.
Wing Commander Manyowa was born on February 2, 1981 in Banket, where he did his primary education before going to St Paul’s Musami in Murehwa for his secondary education.
He was attested into the AFZ in 1999 as an Officer Cadet rising to the rank of a Wing Commander which he held until his untimely death.
Flight Lieutenant Mapiye was born April 3, 1991 at Harare Hospital. She did her primary education at Courtney Primary School and her secondary education at Queen Elizabeth High School.
She was attested into the AFZ in 2012 as officer cadet.
In 2019, Flight Lieutenant Mapiye made history when she completed a helicopter conversion course to become the first female combat helicopter pilot in the AFZ.
The aircraft technician, Flight Chikamhi was born on February 27, 1994 in Zaka.
He did his primary education at Insukamini Primary School and secondary education at Mzilikazi High School.
He was attested into the AFZ on June 28, 2013 as a trainee aircraft technician.