Netcare group CEO Dr Richard Friedland has paid tribute to the four health-care workers and pilot who died when their helicopter crashed in KwaZulu-Natal on Thursday.
They were on a “mercy flight”, he said, trying to assist a critically ill patient who was dying from Covid-19 pneumonia.
The five were identified as anaesthetist Dr Kgopotso Rudolph Mononyane, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Curnick Siyabonga (Sia) Mahlangu, specialist theatre nurse for cardiothoracic and transplant Mpho Xaba, Netcare 911 advanced life support paramedic Sinjin Joshua Farrance and pilot Mark Stoxreiter, who worked for National Airways Corporation (NAC).
Friedland said: “We know God uses good people to do great things, and we need not look any further than these young, talented, extraordinary individuals who embody what it means to be a hero. Every day for them was an act of courage and they were the personification of strength, compassion and grace.”
The tribute is published here, unedited, or you can listen to the address below.
Message to Netcare Group staff from CEO Dr Richard Friedland
Dear Netcare family members,
Martin Luther King Jr said: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
South Africa, the entire world and our own Netcare family have been profoundly and deeply impacted by the ongoing loss of loved ones, friends and colleagues on the frontline on a daily basis for the past year.
This unspeakable pain and suffering is relentless. Never before have we at Netcare had to face this constant barrage of pain, loss and suffering.
Less than 24-hours ago, our ECMO team from Netcare Milpark Hospital consisting of specialist theatre nurse Mpho Xaba, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Curnick Siyabonga Mahlangu, anaesthetist Dr Kgopotso Rudolph Mononyane, Netcare 911 paramedic Sinjin Joshua Farrance and NAC pilot Mark Stoxreiter took off from Midrand in Netcare 1 to Hilton in KwaZulu-Natal.
These brave, selfless, frontline heroes were on a mercy mission to save the life of a desperately ill patient dying of Covid-19 pneumonia.
But as we all know, a catastrophic tragedy occurred and they died tragically in the most devastating of accidents. This was their calling and they have answered the highest call. There is no greater act of humanity than to lose one’s life in attempting to rescue another.
We know God uses good people to do great things, and we need not look any further than these young, talented, extraordinary individuals who embody what it means to be a hero. Every day for them was an act of courage and they were the personification of strength, compassion and grace.
Our hearts are broken. We mourn the loss of these fallen heroes, these frontline workers who have given so selflessly, so courageously of themselves. Our hearts are shattered for their families, children, loved ones, friends and colleagues they have left behind.
Our hearts are with our beloved colleagues at Netcare 911, each and every one of them a frontline hero who puts his and her life at risk every second of the day to save lives.
Likewise, we hold in our hearts our colleagues at Netcare Milpark Hospital and nursing and support teams across our hospitals and divisions throughout the country who have sacrificed so much, too much to be there 24/7 for our communities and citizens ravaged by this plague.
Our hearts mourn for our medical colleagues and their selfless acts of kindness and compassion. And for our skilled and courageous pilot, he too is our hero and one of us.
How do we do them justice? How do we pay tribute to all these fallen heroes, these brave souls who have sacrificed their lives? How do we give comfort to their loved ones and how do we lift our heads up and make meaning from all this pain and suffering?
How can we not carry on and do what needs to be done in honour of them and for those who need us?
Our greatest challenge is to consider and reflect on what is being asked of us right now in this moment, how we continue the legacy of each of these individuals.
We must continue to tap into our humanity and compassion knowing that we, The Netcare Family, do not stand alone in our grief and sorrow. We are inextricably connected. Together we have a shared purpose. Each one of us is a health-care worker, whether we are cleaners, porters, security, technical, administrative, catering, paramedics or nursing – we are part of a chain of providing care and compassion to the most vulnerable at their time of need. This is our calling.
Right across the country, in every ward, theatre, corridor, response car, ED department we have answered the call and however broken and shattered we are, we need to continue to do so.
Elisabeth Lesser says: “When a friend, a loved one, colleague or family member dies, when the world loses one of its beloved citizens, we should not hold back our tears. Our tears, and the calm hands of grief that follow, are the proof of our love, a demonstration of how deeply we have allowed another to touch us.”
I want to end by quoting a few verses by my favourite poet, the giant Maya Angelou, from the poem When Great Trees Fall:
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
When great trees fall
small things recoil into silence,
eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
a hurtful clarity.
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.
Let us hold in our hearts and prayers the souls of these dearly departed colleagues. May they be carried on the wings of angels to their rightful place in heaven. May their dear souls rest in peace. Hambani kahle maqhawe.