Zimbabwean politician Bennett and four others die in New Mexico helicopter crash

Friday, January 19, 2018

Roy Bennett, a key Zimbabwean opposition leader, died on Wednesday evening in a helicopter crash that also killed four other people in the northeastern part of New Mexico, United States. Bennett was 60 years old. His death was confirmed Thursday by some of his friends and family members.

The helicopter, a Bell UH-1 Iroquois, went down after darkness had fallen. The fatal accident happened in a remote and mountainous area about fifteen miles (about 24 km) east of the small town of Raton. The New Mexico State Police has confirmed, four others were killed in the accident: Bennett's wife Heather, pilot Jamie Coleman Dodd, co-pilot Paul Cobb, as well as the wealthy businessman Charles Burnett III. According to friends, Bennett and his wife were on their way to the Emery Gap Ranch, a ranch in New Mexico which Burnett purchased last year, in order to spend their holiday over there. In total, six people were aboard. Only the co-pilot's daughter managed to escape in time from the burning helicopter.

Bennett was a prominent member of the Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai (MDC-T) party. He was very critical of former President Robert Mugabe's reign. Bennett fled Zimbabwe for some time but returned to it in 2009, after which he was arrested on the accusation of illegal weapon possession. He was eventually acquitted from this.

Several Zimbabwean opposition leaders have expressed their grief about Bennett's death. Obert Gutu, a spokesman for MDC-T, spoke of a "huge and tragic loss". Former Minister of Finance Tendai Biti calls it "a blow to our struggle". According to David Coltart, both Bennett and his wife belonged to "Zimbabwe’s greatest patriots". On Friday, Zimbabwean lawyer Alex Magaisa described Bennett as "part of a small group of white Zimbabweans who joined the democratic movement and demonstrated that whites do still have a place in Zimbabwe".