The wail of the siren of an ambulance at Hotel Safari announced the end of 24-year-old Alfred John Ward’s work on earth during a memorial service where friends, families, pilots and fellow colleagues of various first responders paid tribute and their last respects to the August 16 Cape Town air disaster victims.
A mercy flight from Windhoek to Oranjemund and then to Cape Town in a newly acquired Cessna 441 Conquests of West Air Wings in the early hours of August 16, ended in tragedy that morning when the aircraft crashed into Plattekloof Mountain area on its final approach for landing, instantly killing its Namibian crew, as well as a South African patient and his daughter.
Mourners lit candles next to framed photographs in memory of the victims, veteran pilot Steven Naude, 53, co-pilot Amore Espag, 23, and paramedic Alfred John Ward 24. Candles were also lit for 80-year-old Gabriel le Roux, a South African patient who died alongside his daughter, Charmaine Koortzen, 49, an employee of Namdeb who lived in Oranjemund from where her father was med-evacuated.
Investigators are still trying to formally identify all of the victims whose remains were recovered from the crash site and efforts are still underway to identify the bodies, as none of the victims have been laid to rest as yet.
While early private memorial services were held for Espag and Naude, Tuesday’s memorial service was significant for the relatives who gathered.
The CEO of West Air Wings, Wolfgang Grellmann, gave a tribute to pilot Naude and co-pilot Espag, while Eddie Bezuidenhout managing director of EMed Rescue24, paid tribute to the young Ward, saying it was clear that he touched countless lives for the better and could think of no greater calling nor nobler cause than serving as a paramedic.
EMed Rescue 24 has made 13 mercy flights since the day of the tragedy at Plattekloof Mountain and was in the air with three planes conducting emerging flights, while the memorial service was in progress.
Grellmann remembered Naude and Espag as vibrant, dependable, compassionate and generous, intensely dedicated pilots and well-loved friends.
Looking out on the crowd, Chaplin Andre Atonissen, gave a word of encouragement to the bereaved families and colleagues saying they gave hope to many and that the memory of the their sacrifices, must be kept alive.
Bertus Struwig, CEO of Prosperity Group, the owners of EMed Rescue 24, said they have recorded 10 000 mercy flights since the firm’s inception in 2004 and this tragedy was the first major setback the company has experienced.
He said Ward, who worked there for the past three years, would always be remembered for his passion, his compassion, his patience, his willingness to help and his leadership. “Their loss is a trauma for all of us,” he said.
Both Ward and Espag lived short lives, but their lives were full of meaning and purpose, Struwig said, calling their deaths tragic, and difficult for many of their loved ones to bear.
Terrance Ward, father of late Alfred, said his son’s legacy must continue as he influenced and saved many lives. “Alfred put passion into his work and it showed,” he eulogised.
He said the way to honour his son and other rescue workers is by not letting them die in vain. “They died in the line of duty and therefore they were heroes of this nation. The legacy must continue. I know I will see him later,” the father said.
“He will be in my thoughts, in my dreams and every time I hear the wail of sirens in the distance,” said the grief-stricken father.
Reverend Johann Serfontein, who conducted the service, said there are more questions than answers and the response has not always been uplifting. He encouraged the families to stay focussed, despite their pain, and inspired them to let love be stronger than the desperation in the midst of sorrow.