Narrow escape from Hercules nose dive leaves several injured

2013-10-28 00:00

A TOOL box crushed two vertebrae in the back of a female captain and broke the ankle of a load master when the Hercules C-130 cargo plane in which they were flying went into a screaming, out-of-control nose dive at a military show at Roodewal shooting range on Thursday last week.

The pilots, who cannot be identified as they are not allowed to speak to the media, managed to pull the plane out of the dive only 200 feet (60 metres) above the ground to avoid a horror crash in front of a large crowd.

The emergency started just after the crew had set off a display of emergency flares, when the pilots radioed a chilling message to the control tower: “We have lost control!”

The pilots had pulled the plane into a 90° climb before the plane reached an apex and went into a nose dive at the same angle in what pilots called an “unusual position”.

On the ground, the crowd only saw the Hercules — which is known as the world’s safest aircraft — go into the dramatic dive before the pilots pulled up the nose again with what other pilots described as inches to spare.

The air force continued with the air show and made no statements about the emergency afterwards, although the air force did confirm the incident and injuries.

A preliminary investigation had been completed and spokesperson Brigadier-General Xolani Mabanga said the findings showed that the crew handled the incident in a professional manner.

While the plane was in the steep dive, the crew in the back had become weightless and floated to the roof of the plane before gravity flung the female and male officers to the floor again.

A tool box that had torn loose hit the woman in her back. She is currently in 1 Military Hospital in Thaba Tshwane, where two crushed vertebrae will be fused to prevent her becoming paralysed. The tool box also broke the ankle of a male officer. Other crew members suffered a sprained wrist and coccyx.

Pilots yesterday said it was nothing less than a miracle that the aircraft’s pilots had managed to get the Hercules back on a level again.

The control tower instructed the Hercules to fly to the Makhado air force base where fire fighting vehicles and emergency crew awaited its landing.

After they landed the pilots allegedly had an argument while at least one of the angry passengers wanted to hit someone.

Afterwards, a pilot sent a message to one of the passengers stating: “We are very very lucky. We got a second chance.”

The injured had to wait until about 5 pm before a doctor could see them. The doctor immediately realised the seriousness of the female officer’s back injuries and sent her to 1 Military Hospital by Oryx helicopter.

Ironically, air force head Lieutenant-General Zakes Msimang, had said in his media session on Thursday morning that he hoped the air force would be in the news for the right reasons.

Since the end of 2012, six flight crashes and other incidents have left 16 people dead and three planes written off.

Msimang said none of the investigations into the six cases had been finalised.

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