Updated at: 12/06/2012 9:35 AM
By JON GAMBRELL
(AP) JOHANNESBURG - A South African military aircraft on an unknown mission to an area near former President Nelson Mandela’s village crashed in a mountain range, killing all 11 people onboard, officials said Thursday.
The Douglas C-47TP Dakota, a twin-propeller aircraft, had taken off from Pretoria’s Waterkloof Air Force Base on Wednesday morning, said Brig. Gen. Xolani Mabanga, a military spokesman. The aircraft encountered bad weather in flight and failed to make its 10 a.m. landing.
On Thursday morning, soldiers found the wreckage in the Drakensberg mountains near Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal province, some 340 kilometers (210 miles) southeast of the air base, Mabanga said. The Drakensberg, which in the local Afrikaans language means Dragon Mountains, have the highest peaks in South Africa, reaching to a height of about 3,400 meters (11,400 feet).
In a statement Thursday, South Africa’s Defense Department said an investigation would begin into the cause of the crash, which killed six crew members and five passengers. It identified the dead as all military members, including one major, one captain, four sergeants, four corporals and one lance corporal.
The statement did not explain what the aircraft’s mission was. Siphiwe Dlamini, a Defense Department spokesman, did not respond Thursday to requests for more information about the crash.
Mthatha is about 30 kilometers (17 miles) north of Qunu, the village where Mandela now lives after retiring from public life. South Africa’s military remains largely responsible for the former president’s medical care. However, military officials declined to say whether those on board had any part in caring for Mandela.
In November, another South African military flight crash-landed at Mthatha, injuring several people.
Mandela, 94, was imprisoned for nearly three decades for his fight against apartheid before becoming the nation’s president in the country’s first fully democratic vote in 1994.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)