6 February 2016

Tanzania: Five Nabbed in Connection With Chopper Attack

Photo: The Citizen
Helicopter pilot Roger Gower, right, assists with anti-poaching activities in Tanzania’s Katavi National Park. On January 28, he died after he was shot by poachers while trying to track them down. (file photo)

First time that poachers have shot down an aircraft in Tanzania

At least five suspects have so far been arrested in connection with last weekend's incident in which a British pilot Roger Gower (37) was killed.

Poachers armed with an assault rifle gunned down a helicopter which was patrolling the Maswa Game Reserve in Simiyu region.

Minister for Natural Resources, Tourism and Environment Prof Jumanne Maghembe revealed in Arusha that the initial suspects were cooperating with security organs and more suspects making up the poaching gang would be brought to justice.

It is the first time that poachers have shot down an aircraft in Tanzania.

Prof Maghembe added that, it was high time major operations were conducted in the National Parks and Game Reserves especially those located in areas bordering villages as some poachers may pose as residents.

The late Gower who came to Tanzania about seven years ago was piloting the chopper 5HFGF sent out on a mission to track poachers who had reportedly killed three large elephants.

Gower, 37, and a safari guide, Nicky Bester, were flying low to the ground. A bullet is understood to have passed through the floor of the helicopter, hitting Gower first in the leg then in the shoulder before exiting through the roof.

Despite his injuries Gower managed to fly the helicopter down into a tree preventing a potential explosion and saving Bester, who jumped to safety as the aircraft came down and hid from the poachers in a thicket, wildlife authorities said.

Photographs of the crashed helicopter showed apparent bullet holes in the fuselage.

The culprits reportedly fired on his aircraft belonging to the Friedkin Conservation Fund as it flew over the Meatu District in Simiyu region bordering Serengeti National Park.

The Public Relations Manager for Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) Mr Paschal Shelutete added that three elephant carcasses were found indicating that whoever shot the chopper down was on a large scale illegal hunting spree.

In a message posted on its website, FCF founder Mr Dan Friedkin said the organisation was "profoundly saddened by the loss of our dear friend," adding that "Roger was killed while piloting a helicopter during a coordinated effort with the Tanzanian wildlife authorities to track down and arrest active elephant poachers. In the course of this action the poachers fired upon the helicopter and Roger was fatally wounded.

Friedkin assured that his organization was committed to honouring Roger and his work. "We are also committed to ensuring that those responsible for this attack are found and brought to justice and believe that Roger can best be honoured by redoubling our commitment to protect elephants and our priceless wildlife heritage."

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