Pilot dies in PE aircraft crash

Gareth Wilson and Brian Hayward

A CAPE Town pilot was killed when his twin-engine Beechcraft Baron aircraft crashed into a hill on a farm near Draaifontein Road, Greenbushes, during an attempted emergency landing.

The 57-year-old pilot, who cannot be named as his wife and children are out of the country and have not yet been notified, is thought to have “experienced problems” with the plane while in flight.

The Beechcraft Baron aircraft landed at the Port Elizabeth airport yesterday morning for repairs and a minor service before taking off again at 2.15pm.

The pilot’s flight plan, which was filed shortly before takeoff, said he was flying overland back to Cape Town.

Police spokesman Warrant Officer Alwin Labans said the pilot had attempted to manoeuvre the plane to land at the nearby Progress Flight Academy landing strip, but nose-dived into a hill on the JJ Rankin farm. “Witnesses saw the plane change direction and head towards the flight school landing strip,” he said.

“According to them, the plane’s engine did not sound right and it was losing altitude.

“We suspect he was attempting to turn the plane around to make an emergency landing on a safe piece of land.”

Moments after the crash, witnesses alerted the fire department, mounted unit and search and rescue as well as other emergency services.

Labans said the air traffic control tower had lost the aircraft’s signal at about 2.30pm, but had not received any distress notification from the pilot.

Farm resident Keith Lonesdale, 25, said he had been home when the plane passed over his house.

“I heard a plane and then heard the engine not sounding right.

“The next thing, I heard a big bang and ran outside,” he said.

“I climbed onto the roof, but did not see anything. I only realised what had happened after my mother phoned to tell me a plane had crashed.”

Crime scene commander Colonel Tony Nomdoe said a 1km perimeter had been set up around the main body of the wreckage so that experts could reconstruct the scene.

“We have established a forward control point on scene and will search the entire area for pieces of the wreckage,” he said.

Debris from the plane was found more than 100m from the wreckage.

“We will mark where all the plane parts are and await the arrival of the Civil Aviation experts so they can begin their investigation,” Nomdoe said.

“We have placed police guards at the wreckage overnight to secure the scene until the experts arrive from Pretoria.”

Police confirmed late yesterday evening that Cape Town police had spoken to the pilot’s brother, who lives in Hermanus, but had not yet managed to get hold of the man’s wife and children, who were holidaying in Mozambique.

SA Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) spokeswoman Phindiwe Gwebu said an investigator had been dispatched to the crash site.

PE Airport manager Azad Cassim, who was at the scene, said because the crash site was outside the jurisdiction of the PE Airport, he had called in airport officials to advise and assist where needed.

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