Fear and prayers on PMB flight

2011-11-11 00:00

A SECOND chance at life — that was the view of passengers on Flight SA8739 who were headed home to Pietermaritzburg and instead survived a hard emergency landing at O.R. Tambo airport last night.

Among the passengers on the 6 pm Airlink flight was Moneyweb’s Alec Hogg, who lives in the Midlands and is a regular traveller on the PMB-JHB route.

Speaking to The Witness while travelling in a bus with other passengers to be put up at a hotel overnight, Hogg described the dramatic events of last night. It was just after 11 pm, five hours after their flight was supposed to have departed from Johannesburg.

Hogg said it started with passengers stuck on a brand new plane (an Avro RJ 85) on the tarmac for 40 minutes, and then transferred to an older aircraft, one which still has ashtrays.

“Everyone was relaxed. People from KZN are like that.”

However, about 15 minutes into the flight, the captain announced that the plane would have to return to O.R. Tambo. “He apologised, told us to relax and that it was not life-threatening.”

However, after circling O.R. Tambo for two hours, passengers began worrying.

Hogg was full of praise for the crew, saying they acted very professionally and in a mature manner.

The pilot advised that the plane, with about 75 passengers, would have to perform an emergency landing.

The plane was dead quiet.

Asked what was racing through his mind, he said: “We had a bit of time. I think it’s quite a privilege experiencing something like this. Of course you’re scared and there was a lot of praying.”

Passengers were told to assume the brace position, and because the landing gear had not opened the plane hit the tarmac and then scraped along its belly.

Hogg said he saw about 10 fire engines and there “was a very strong smell of tar and a lot of smoke”.

When the plane finally came to a standstill there was spontaneous applause.

Passengers shook the hand of the pilot, whom Hogg described as brilliant.

He was no more than 25 years old, but had given passengers “confidence in a scary situation”, Hogg tweeted.

“Made my peace with God. It was that real. God bless Captain VD.”

Hogg identified the pilot as Captain Harm Kallenberg.

“He was mobbed. We were very grateful.”

Hogg said another passenger remarked, “Now you are having a second chance in life”.

Asked whether he planned to fly back tomorrow or would rather stick to the road, Hogg said he would be on the 6 am flight.

It was going to be a long night. One of Hogg’s last tweets remarked that passengers were at the Southern Sun hotel.

“Poor organisation. Airlink guys have ducked. Only two people checking in 70 of us. Will be queuing for ages.”

Another passenger on the plane was Dr Ivan Meyer, Western Cape MEC for sport and culture, who was on his way to represent Premier Helen ZZille at the National Council of Provinces sitting in KZN.

He was asked to help open the plane door after the landing.

Smoke billowed through the cabin, he said, and the inflatable emergency slides were deployed. However, the slides detatched from the doors and passengers had to jump on to the slides lying on the tarmac.

“Some people fell hard, but no one was actually injured,” said Meyer.

“That pilot kept his head!” he added.

“I was sitting in seat 1C and before the flight I was asked, as usual, whether I would be able to help with the emergency door in case of emergency.

“This time it was necessary.

“While we circled many of the passengers were very stressed and visited the toilets,” he added. “We were told to assume the ‘brace’ position and then that calm pilot landed the plane.

“The airport was ready with foam on the runway.”

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