Farm couple describe ‘horrific’ fatal plane crash

2008-06-29 00:00

A Hammarsdale couple yesterday described the sick feeling they experienced when they realised that the loud crash they heard was an aeroplane smashing into a hill close to their home on the Bartlett Estate, killing both the pilot and passenger, who are believed to be from Pretoria.

It is believed that the couple, whose names are known to The Witness, had come to KZN to visit a relative in Wartburg. They were staying in a bed and breakfast in Wembley and were on a round trip from Oribi when the accident occurred at around 5.15 pm on Saturday. It is believed that the man owned a company in Midrand.

Their bodies were taken to the Pinetown mortuary and their names had not been released yesterday.

Speaking to The Witness, Justin and Trish von Niebel said they heard the engine of the Piper Cherokee “revving like mad”.

Justin said he was in the stables feeding his horses when he heard the plane’s engine screaming and then a “horrific” crash.

Trish said they immediately called a friend who has ties to the Pietermaritzburg Aero Club to report the accident. “He then contacted the relevant authorities and directed them to the scene.”

The couple said there was heavy cloud cover on the hill, which their property directly overlooks.

“I have never seen such a cloud,” said Trish. “It was a massive grey cloud.”

They said the top of the hill is planted with sugarcane, which was recently burned, making it dark brown.

This may have added to the factors hampering visibility. Trish said she spoke to an air traffic controller from Johannesburg after the crash who said that there may have been a lot of turbulence under the cloud.

A large contingent of emergency services rushed to the area with fire engines, ambulances and rescue teams converging on the hill.

They worked late into the night and had to extricate the body of the woman, which was trapped in the aircraft and was found in her seat. The man was allegedly thrown out of the plane on impact.

The wreckage was said to have covered a large area.

People on the scene said a wing was sheared off and found some 800 metres from the rest of the aircraft.

They reported a large hole where it is presumed that the propeller dug into the ground. The wreckage was found some way away from the hole.

Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Henry Budhram confirmed that both occupants, a woman aged about 55 and a man aged about 60, died on impact.

Numerous attempts to contact Civil Aviation Authority spokeswoman Phindiwe Gwebu and other CAA officials were unsuccessful yesterday.

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