Fuel shortage cripples LDF rescue mission

MASERU — The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF)’s Air Wing Squadron abandoned a mission to rescue people trapped in snow in the mountains last Tuesday after running out of fuel, the Lesotho Times has heard.
An LDF helicopter managed to rescue seven people who were trapped in heavy snow at Thaba-Putsoa.
But the Lesotho Times understands that when the helicopter was supposed to take the second group the LDF authorities ordered the rescue team to stop the mission because the army did not have enough fuel, sources said.
The LDF spokesperson, Captain Ntlele Ntoi, on Monday confirmed that the pilots were ordered to stop rescuing the people because the army had no fuel.
He said continuing with the rescue operation would have cost the army to dip into its oil reserves “which the LDF was not prepared to do.”
“It is not easy to get the amount of oil we need on time so we always use it sparingly,” Ntoi said.
“Our oil orders from suppliers take a long time. The LDF deemed it fit to spare the little oil we have for the army’s core business,” he said.
According to sources some of the people who needed to be rescued had been injured when a bus they were travelling in swerved and fell in a ditch along a road in the mountainous region of Thaba-Tseka.
There were also other groups of people trapped in buses and private cars along the roads to Mphosong in Leribe and Qacha’s Nek.
These people had to wait for three days in the extremely cold  weather of an average seven digits below the freezing point before they could be rescued.
Ntoi said the ongoing petrol industry strike in South Africa had contributed to the LDF’s decision stop the rescue operation.
He said because of the strike the LDF had not received fuel supplies it had ordered and there was no guarantee the army would get any supplies soon.
Ntoi explained that the strike by 70 000 workers from the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union and the General Industrial Workers Union of South Africa had forced the country to suspend supplies of jet fuel to neighbouring countries.
“Hence the LDF had no option but to save the little fuel it had,” he said.
The Disaster Management Authority, which is supposed to conduct such rescue operations, does not have its own helicopters for rescuing people in hard to reach areas.
The police who are sometimes called to help people in urgent situations also do not have helicopters.
The army is always called to help during emergencies that require the use of helicopters, although that is not its primary duty.
Soldiers who spoke on condition of anonymity say the Air Wing boss, Major General Victor Mohapi, was very disappointed when he received orders to stop rescue operation.
“I know Morena Mohapi as someone who would do anything possible to ensure safety of people and when he was faced with a decision to stop rescuing, I could see that he was disappointed,” said a soldier who was working closely with Mohapi during the operation.
“He wouldn’t say anything to us that would sound disrespectful of his superiors but I could see that he did not want to do what he was told to do.”
Efforts to contact Mohapi were unsuccessful as he was said to be out of the country.

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