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Destructive mining malpractice survey on the West Coast

Updated: Jun 4

Protect the West Coast aims to expose the impacts of the beach mining industry on the West Coast through imagery and video. To support this effort, they requested aerial assistance from The Bateleurs, arranging a flight from Cape Town with the survey beginning at Elands Bay and extending north to Alexander Bay.


For decades, diamond mining companies have been extracting resources from the region between Hondeklipbaai and Alexander Bay, leaving the area unrehabilitated and devastated. Some of these companies are now seeking to extend their operations further south, with applications reaching as far as Elands Bay.


The mission obtained photographic evidence of the environmental damage inflicted by these mining activities from Lamberts Bay to Alexander Bay. This evidence will be disseminated through media and filmmaking to raise awareness and support ongoing legal battles with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and mining companies, holding them accountable for the environmental degradation.



Protect the West Coast project team mission report: Mike Schlebach


On the afternoon of Sunday the 26th of May, our two man Protect the West Coast (PTWC) team of Jacque Smit and myself (Mike Schlebach) embarked on a 3 day journey with Jean Trefson, Bateleurs pilot, in his GyroCopter, to carry out a destructive mining malpractice survey on the West Coast.


The idea behind the project was for our organisation to capture video footage and images of the entire west coast from Lamberts Bay to the Alexander Bay with a special focus on all the mining operations taking place in the area. The content will be used by industry oversight specialists, various organisations, the  media and PTWC.


Jacque was the videographer that flew with Jean while I followed behind in the back up vehicle collecting fuel along the way.

While we have not yet compiled all the footage, the trip was a great success and we are looking forward to sharing this much needed visual imagery with the world.


A very big "Thank you" to Jean for his outstanding effort - we are incredibly grateful.



 

Destructive mining malpractice survey on the West Coast: Bateleurs Pilot Report: Jean Tresfon


The West Coast weather can be fickle as winter approaches and the greatest challenge is to identify a gap of at least two days between approaching frontal systems. Cloudless and windless weather still does not guarantee flyable conditions as calm weather days are the perfect recipe for a thick blanket of advection fog, known locally as the Malmokkie, to completely cover the coast for up to a mile or more inland. By necessity the team needs to be ready to go on short notice. Checking the multitude of available weather forecasting models on Thursday, I spotted a decent gap for the following Monday and Tuesday.


The PTWC crew confirmed their availability and the detailed planning started in earnest. The gyrocopter has a maximum endurance of 2h45m (plus another 45m of legal reserve) so the various legs needed to be less than 300km each.  Departing from Morningstar Flying Club in Cape Town the total distance to Alexander Bay and back was just under 1,500km so would require at least five separate legs to be flown over at least two days, but this did not leave much margin for delays and the prospect of being caught in the air after sunset was not very appealing. Accordingly I planned a Sunday afternoon departure.

 

Taking off late in the afternoon on Sunday there was a brisk southeaster blowing and we enjoyed a helpful tailwind for the first leg to Lambert's Bay. We routed inland to Hopefield and then followed the Berg River to the sea at Laaiplek, before following the coast northwards past Dwarskerbos and around Baboon Point to Elands Bay, then on to Lamberts Bay. We were met at the airfield by Avril Mocke, a man of many titles... Pilot, airfield manager, station commander of the local NSRI, and more importantly for us, hotelier! He put us (and the gyro!) up for the night, but not before we enjoyed a magnificent dinner at Isabella's in the harbour. 

 

Monday morning saw our ground crew departing early for the much longer drive to Kleinzee, our second destination. After fueling and pre-flighting the gyro, we lifted clear of the ground into perfectly calm and blue skies, with not even a hint of fog. A small technical hitch with one of the cameras saw us make a quick landing at the nearby Doringbaai before continuing up the coast. Just past Strandfontein the mining areas started in earnest at De Punt, as did a strong northeasterly wind.


This hot and turbulent berg wind made for a bumpy ride and seriously ate into our fuel reserves but we battled gamely along, alternating between areas of extreme natural wilderness and beauty, and areas of complete devastation, resembling a post apocalyptic battlefield. Abandoned and rusting tractors, gravel sorters and other assorted mining gear littered the coast. Massive craters and cofferdams, some filled with bright orange water, dotted the coastline with many at the site of old and abandoned mines. Clearly very little attempt, if any at all, is made at post mining rehabilitation. Eventually we arrived at Kleinzee Airfield, landing into the still blustery northeaster, and were met by Rodney Williams. Another pilot and airfield manager, Rodney has lived at Kleinzee for over 35 years and was a font on knowledge on which to draw while waiting for the ground crew to arrive with the fuel.


The last leg for the day saw us taking off and heading north to Alexander Bay, the Orange River and the Namibian border. The wind did not let up and we bumped and thumped our way along the coast, with the mining and degradation of the seashore becoming worse as we headed north. Most of this piece of the coast is off limits and inaccessible to terrestrial travellers. The original plan was to fly a little way up the Orange River before returning to Kleinzee, but the wind had eroded our fuel reserves to the point where I did not feel comfortable and elected to head straight back for an uneventful landing followed by a well-earned drink and dinner at the Crazy Crayfish. 

 

Tuesday morning once again gifted us zero fog, but the sky was dark grey and ominous looking with heavy rain falling out to sea. After refuelling and pre-flight checks were complete, we took off to the south, initially getting hammered by the incessant berg winds before outrunning the frontal system and bursting out from under the clouds and into the sunshine about an hour later. We followed the coast back to Lamberts Bay, this time with the light behind us and collecting more footage along the way. To save time for our ground crew we told them to head straight to Morningstar and skip the detour to Lamberts Bay. This meant once again asking for help from Avril who not only took us to buy fuel, but also suggested a proper breakfast back at Isabella's.


The last leg back to Morningstar was in stunning calm conditions, in stark contrast to the previous few flights. We followed the coast back to the Berg River mouth before heading inland to Vredenburg, Langebaan and back to the coast at Yzerfontein. We landed back at Morningstar having flown 1,418km in just under 12 hours of flight time, with all our objectives achieved.

 



 

 Stats from the mission:


Route flown:

 

 

Total Distance: 1,418km

Average Speed: 121km/hr


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