A British pilot who was fatally shot by elephant poachers in Tanzaniamanaged to manoeuvre his helicopter safely to the ground before dying, saving the life of a South African colleague, it has emerged.
Roger Gower, 37, and his spotter Nicky Bester were flying low to the ground searching for gunmen who had killed three elephants in the country’s Maswa Game Reserve on Friday afternoon when they broke cover andshot at him from the ground with a high-calibre rifle.
A bullet is understood to have passed up through the floor of the aluminium and fibre-glass helicopter, hitting Mr Gower first in the leg then in the shoulder before exiting through the roof.
Despite being mortally injured, he brought the damaged helicopter down into a tree before it hit land, preventing it from exploding and saving Mr Bester, who jumped to safety as the aircraft came to land and hid from the poachers in a thicket, wildlife authorities said.
Photographs showed the stricken aircraft lying in the savannah grass on its side, bullet holes clearly visible in its chassis and its seats spattered with blood.
Tanzanian police arrested three men, Jumanne Maghembe, Tanzania’s natural resources and tourism minister, said. “This is a tragic, very sad and extremely unfortunate event,” he told The Telegraph.
“The suspects are in the hands of police,” he said. “They are cooperating, and soon more people making up the poaching gang will be netted and brought to justice.”
Friends and family paid tribute to the former accountant from Birmingham who retrained as a pilot and moved to east Africa eight years ago to fly touristic safaris and, latterly, anti-poaching operations with the Friedkin Conservation Fund (FCS).
Andy Payne, Mr Gower’s colleague and housemate, described him as a “respected and professional pilot” who was becoming increasingly invested in working to stop the “wanton killing” of Tanzania’s elephants.
Pratik Patel, another contemporary of the FCS, said he had been “a great guy, a great friend, a great pilot”.
Read more: Telegraph