Pilot cheats death as plane catches fire

Picture: Gareth Wilson/The Herald

‘ I could not see anything due to the smoke. I jumped out. I just ran. Then I sat and watched it burn’

AFTER the engine of his light aircraft caught fire and the cockpit filled with  smoke, a Port Elizabeth pilot narrowly cheated death when he managed to  crash-land on a dairy farm at the foot of the Lady Slipper mountain yesterday.

Test pilot Rego Burger, 53, managed to escape the wreckage of his two-seater  plane shortly after his left glider wing hit an electrical pylon, causing the  X-294 Motorglider to spin out of control and crash only about five metres from  Old Cape Road near St Albans before bursting into flames.

The cause of the crash has been linked to engine failure which is believed to have led to the engine catching alight and cutting out during flight.

A visibly shaken Burger described his escape as a combination of luck and years of training.

Both the police and metro emergency medical services helicopter landed on the farm shortly after the crash.

“As I flew over Lady Slipper, the cockpit started filling up with smoke. The engine was on fire and I managed to turn the fuel pump flow off to ensure the fire did not spread,” Burger said.

At that stage the cockpit was full of smoke. “I saw the farm and knew that was the safest area to try land,” Burger said.

“Because I could not see anything in front of me while landing, I hit the pylon pillar with the wing, causing the plane to go into a spin.

“I would estimate that I was landing at about 100km an hour at that stage.

“Luckily, seconds before impact, I managed to tighten my harness to embrace. When it came to a stop I still could not see anything due to the smoke. I managed to feel around and found the clips to release the top cover. As soon as I unclipped it I jumped out. I just ran. I literally sat and watched it burn. I was very fortunate.”

Police spokesman Captain Sandra Janse van Rensburg said no investigation would be carried out by the police, but the matter would be referred to the Civil Aviation Authority.

– Gareth Wilson

This story appeared in Weekend Post on Saturday, 7 November, 2015 e-Edition

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