On Thursday morning, anaesthetist Dr Kgopotso Rudolph Mononyane, was meant to leave Johannesburg’s Milpark Hospital as part of a medical crew that was flying to Durban to transport a critically ill patient.
But that flight was put on hold, with the doctor called in to try to save the life of minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu. Despite his best efforts, Mthembu succumbed to Covid-19 related complications.
Then, shortly after, Mononyane boarded the medical flight to Durban which crashed — killing all on board — in the early afternoon.
Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize revealed this devastating news in an interview with eNCA journalist Clement Manyathela on Thursday. He speaks of the incident about 5½ minutes into the interview.
Mononyane was one of five people who died when a Netcare medical helicopter crashed near Bergville in KZN on Thursday.
The others were Dr Curnick Siyabonga (Sia) Mahlangu, a cardiothoracic surgeon; Mpho Xaba, a specialist theatre nurse for cardiothoracic and transplant; Sinjin Joshua Farrance, an advanced life support paramedic at Netcare 911; and pilot Mark Stoxreiter.
They were travelling from Milpark Hospital to pick up a critical patient from a private hospital in Hillcrest, west of Durban.
“One of the doctors who has passed away in the crash was actually called by a friend, Dr Paul Williams, to come and assist to save minister Jackson during that difficult time,” said Mkhize.
“He dropped the trip; he was supposed to go to KwaZulu-Natal. And then his team waited [and] delayed his flight. He came back [to help Mthembu]. They worked very hard. Dr Kgopotso Rudolph Mononyane, a cardiothoracic anaesthetist, he came together [with other doctors] to do everything they could to support minister Jackson.
“And of course, unfortunately, on his way out, as he was flying out, he had a fatal accident,” Mkhize said.
“We’d like to convey our very sincere condolences to the families of all those doctors and pilot who lost their lives. We know their dedication, their hard work and their effort to try to save lives all the time.”
In the eNCA interview, Mkhize said he had spoken to Mthembu about two days before his death.
“I spoke to him just before he was flown out of Steve Biko Memorial [hospital] to Milpark Hospital. He would call me every now and again. Maybe he’d call twice a day to just tell me how he’s doing, and then I’ll call him just to reassure him that he’s in good hands,” Mkhize said.
“When he tested positive he called me and told me that he had tested positive. He also then described to me the symptoms he was going through. Later on he called back … to indicate that he was not happy and was feeling rather uncomfortable and, of course, we had to make arrangements for him to move to hospital.
“But he was always very positive. He was a man who never really demonstrated any stress whenever he had to deal with issues. He would talk and laugh and joke about it and make you feel more at ease and more or less, even though, up until the last time we had our chat, he was always trying to make sure we feel that he’s OK, that he’s fine, that he’s strong, and so on.
“When we got the report [that he had died] we were actually quite devastated. We will miss him. A really giant tree has fallen.”