In June 2020, a Bat Hawk ultralight aircraft crashed under suspicious circumstances while on routine patrol near the city of Mudimbe. Rescuers located the badly-injured Dyck Advisory Group pilot in a heavily wooded area. He is recovering in a South African hospital.
Military commanders are concerned about the crash. In April, Islamic militants shot down a contractor’s helicopter. And, Bat Hawk surveillance aircraft are critical in the government’s fight against these militants. In fact, according to one source, DAG has “helped turn the tide against an army of militants, who have been waging a shad oar in the country’s northern Cabo Delgado province for more than two years now.”
Designed and built in South Africa, the Bat Hawk has a number of civilian and military applications. Many conservation groups and game preserves use these light aircraft. Their primary military purpose is surveillance. The Bat Hawk’s small size and limited noise level makes it almost invisible to people on the ground.
In terms of its design, the Bat Hawk is not quite an airplane and not quite a glider. Additionally, to keep it free of dust, the plane’s propeller engine is above the cockpit. As a result, it has an unusual center of gravity. These things make the Bat Hawk difficult to fly. These difficulties are even more pronounced if, as seems to be the case in the DAG crash, the aircrafts’ sole occupant was a multitasking surveillance officer and pilot.
So, pilot error most likely caused this crash. However, a number of other causes are possible as well, most likely sabotage. Given recent events in Mozambique, sabotage is actually a rather likely cause. More on that below.
Army and Air Force pilots do not do well in aircraft like the Bat Hawk. These individuals are used to flying high-powered aircraft built in the United States or Europe. Contractors usually have better skill sets in this area. That is especially true if the contractor is an African native.
The Situation in Mozambique
For almost 500 years, Mozambique was a Portugese colony. Like many European colonies in Africa, Mozambique became independent in the years following World War II. Also like many other former European colonies in Africa, stable democracy did not come very quickly to Mozambique. A Marxist strongman, Samora Machel, seized power in 1977. A protracted civil war began.
In 1986, Machel’s plane crashed under mysterious circumstances. His successor, Joaquim Chissano, who abandoned Marxism, called for a free market system and free elections. In 1994, the revamped Chissano government prevailed in what was, for the most part, an open and fair contest.
In the ensuing years, things began looking up for Mozambique. This nation in East Africa became the first member of the Commonwealth of Nations which was not a former British colony. An estimated five million refugees returned home during the mid-1990s. And, the 1999 elections were not controversy-free, but they were once again open and fair.
Suddenly, in 2000, a powerful cyclone hit Mozambique. It overwhelmed the country’s fragile infrastructure. Additionally, a foreign correspondent investigating corruption allegations was murdered under mysterious circumstances. The killer was never caught.
As a result, in 2013, the civil war began again, albeit on a much more limited basis. Rebel groups claimed they won electoral majorities in parts of northern and central Mozambique. A number of refugees fled to Malawi as fighting escalated.
In 2015, Islamic militants took advantage of the growing chaos to begin operations in Mozambique. Many of these militants are affiliated with al-Shabaab, an al-Qaedan affiliate based largely in Ethiopia and Somalia.
Contractors in Support Roles
There are basically no U.S. servicemembers in Mozambique. The ones there are mostly military attaches and advisors. But Mozambique is in a key geopolitical position. It is almost right on the line between the mostly-Muslim north of Africa and the mostly-Christian south. Furthermore, it is within easy flying distance of the strategic Horn of Africa. In short, a stable and democratic Mozambique is arguably critical to the global security of the United States.
As is often the case, contractors go where regular servicemembers cannot tread, for one reason or another.
Some remote villages are still reeling from the effects of the cyclone. These people need to know that they are safe and the supplies they need are available. In the past, Mozambique’s government has dropped the ball in these areas. Contractors shore up government institutions and also give people suspicious of government oversight something to believe in.
Mozambique’s limited armed forces face two insurgencies. As a result, they must be highly trained in anti-insurgency tactics. These lessons are often not taught in military academies. Contractor training picks up the slack. Contractors share their real world experience with Mozambican officers, so they can share these lessons with their men.
Finally, sophisticated aircraft like the Bat Hawk do not fly themselves, and they do not maintain themselves either. Contractors know how to do these things. Many of them came from the companies who designed and built the equipment. So, they have insider knowledge that others do not have.
Qualifying for Injury Compensation Benefits
Contractors injured in Mozambique qualify for benefits under the Defense Base Act. Injured victims must only show that they were injured in an overseas war zone and there was a nexus between their injuries and their deployments.
Almost every foreign land on the globe is a “war zone” for DBA purposes. This status applies if the country had at least one American military installation. That installation does not have to be an army base or other staging area. It could be Marine guards at a U.S. embassy.
Essentially, a nexus is an indirect connection. For example, if a Mozambican contractor is injured while swimming in the ocean, the DBA applies to this injury. Cause is largely irrelevant. The DBA takes care of the Bat Hawk pilot’s medical bills, even if pilot error caused the crash. Additionally, the injury need not occur while the contractor is “on the clock.”
On a related note, noncitizen contractors are eligible for DBA benefits. Noncitizen contractors often serve as translators in Southwest Asia and in various other capacities as well.
The professionals at Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, PA have additional information about available medical benefits.