Pilot cries wolf at PE airport

2013-08-07 00:00

PORT ELIZABETH — The arrival of former U.S. president Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea was overshadowed by pilot who had “accidentally” sent a hijack emergency signal.

The 7500 Squawk code, which alerts authorities on the ground if a plane has been hijacked, had members of the police dog unit and bomb squad deploy with their helicopter on the runway of the Port Elizabeth International Airport yesterday.

Police spokesperson Captain Sandra Janse van Rensburg said the quick reaction time showed the police were ready to respond to emergencies. In the hubbub, no one noticed that the Clintons had come and gone. They were in town to visit a community centre.

Aviation officials have meanwhile expressed their disbelief that a pilot could mistakenly enter the squawk code, especially as this was the second time in just three weeks that an SAA pilot had made such a mistake.

Civil Aviation spokesperson Phindiwe Magwebu said the organisation would probe the two incidents to check if it was the same type of aircraft and crew involved in both incidents.

She said the previous false alarm was made on July 16, on a flight from Cape Town that was landing in Johannesburg.

SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali yesterday confirmed the false emergency signal.

He said it was too early to say if any of the crew will lose their jobs over these incidents. Tlali did not want to reveal the pilots’ names.

The communications manager of the Airports Company of South Africa, Colin Naidoo, confirmed that the incidents would be investigated, but did not want to add any comment.

A private pilot said it was highly unusual for any pilot to send a wrong signal.

He said sending the signal was “definitely not something” a pilot could do accidentally.

“I would not be surprised if those guys never fly again,” was his reaction.

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