Pmb-Jhb plane crashes

2009-09-25 00:00

AN SA Airlink plane crashed into a Durban school yesterday morning, critically injuring three crew members and a municipal cleaner on the ground.

While the cause of the crash is not known at this stage, it is believed that the pilot experienced engine trouble after taking off and managed to divert the plane over a block of houses before crashing into an open space outside Merebank High School in Juggernaut Road.

The plane was on its way to Pietermaritzburg at the time of the crash.

According to Airlink’s website, the plane declared an emergency shortly after it took off from Durban International Airport. The crew reported engine loss and smoke from the rear of the aircraft.

A Durban Solid Waste employee who was cleaning the verge outside the school was seriously injured when the plane hit the ground. He was dragged by the plane into the concrete palisade fencing of the school and eventually landed underneath the left wing.

It is believed that the cleaner’s fellow workers rushed to his aid shortly after the crash, but when they realised that they could not move him, they ran to get help.

Inside, pilot Allister Freeman (40), co-pilot Sonja Bierman and cabin attendant Rodelle Oosthuizen sustained major head, neck and facial injuries.

Residents who saw the low-flying plane said the pilot circled the block, and then landed at an angle, avoiding the houses and a nearby shopping centre before crashing into the fence.

While paramedics and emergency services worked to remove the victims from the wreckage, police battled to keep onlookers at bay. A large police contingent surrounded the scene of the crash. Some people broke through the police barricades to get a closer look at the plane.

There were fears that the plane could explode as it contained a large amount of fuel.

People gasped as they watched paramedics pull out the injured from the wreck. The victims were stabilised before being airlifted to St Augustine’s and Inkosi Albert Luthuli hospitals where they are in a critical condition

ER24 paramedic Derrick Banks said the cleaner, who was not identified, suffered broken legs, chest trauma and abdominal swelling. He is in a stable condition at St Augustine’s Hospital.

While the victims were being pulled out of the plane, firefighters doused the area with foam because there was smoke coming from the engine.

Airports Company of South Africa spokesman Colin Naidoo said the aircraft, a Jetstream 41, was diverted from Pietermaritzburg on Wednesday night because of the rainy weather.

Naidoo said the passengers were bussed back to Pietermaritzburg, and yesterday morning the crew took off for Pietermaritzburg to continue the scheduled services.

“It was not a scheduled flight. The Civil Aviation Authority and the SAPS are investigating the cause of the crash,” he said.

Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said: “We want to wish those injured in the plane crash in Merebank … a speedy recovery. We acknowledge that this is a difficult time for those injured and their families our thoughts and prayers are with them.”

KZN Transport MEC Willies Mchunu said he is pleased there were no fatalities.

 

“I LOOKED him in the eye and told him that he was not going to die.”

These are words of Merebank resident Alka Bejai, who rushed to the aid of a Durban Solid Waste cleaner who was seriously injured when an Airlink plane crashed into the fence of a local school.

She told The Witness that she heard the low-flying plane just after 7 am and knew that something awful was going to happen.

“I ran outside and saw this plane coming in at an angle towards the school. The cone of the plane hit the ground, taking the cleaner with it into the concrete fence,” she said.

Bejai did not bother to put on shoes and ran to the scene.

“When I got there, I saw this young man lying under the wing. At first I thought he was dead, but then he moved and looked at me,” she said.

She said the cleaner, who was covered in blood, was in shock. His legs were pinned under some debris

“I told him to stay still until the ambulance arrived. He looked so scared and weak, almost like he had given up,” she said.

Bejai laid his head on heap of bin bags and tried to keep him calm.

She said that by that time, other people had rushed to the scene.

“The two pilots were covered in blood. We tried opening the door but couldn’t get inside. The air hostess had blood streaming down her face.”

Bejai, who shudders when she thinks of the crash, believes it is a miracle that no one was killed in the crash.

“It could have been a school day and innocent children could have been hurt. It’s a miracle and that pilot is a hero for landing that plane in the way he did,” she said.

It’s a miracle and that pilot is a hero for landing that planein the way he did. Alka Bejai

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