Two of South Africa's most promising young cyclists were among the five people who died in a plane crash in the Free State on Tuesday, January 18. Jaco Odendaal and Jaco De Witt, as well as three other persons were on board an Aerostar light aircraft which left Wonderboom aerodrome at about 16:30 on Tuesday. It was due to have landed at Harrismith at 17:30.
When they did not land as expected, a search was launched which continued through the night. The wreckage was found just outside Cornelia at noon on Wednesday. The cause of the crash is believed to be bad weather conditions as the plane was about to land, then diverted onto a field and burned out.
Although their names have not been released by the police, the cyclists' manager Tony Harding confirmed that Jaco Odendaal's father, Koos, had telephoned him to break the news that his son, and fellow cyclist and friend Jaco De Witt were dead.
Until 2003, both cyclists rode for Div. III Team Barloworld. That year, Odendaal finished 3rd at the Giro Del Capo, and De Witt won a stage in the Tour de Eden. The following season, Odendaal signed with South African team Microsoft, whereas De Witt retired from professional cycling to continue his university studies. Odendaal was expected at the airport by his Microsoft teammates for a training ride, as their next race was scheduled to be the Pietermaritzburg's Belgotex/Witness classic on Sunday, January 23.