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Nicholas Smallberg
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Of birthdays, stowaways and confidently flying SAA

20 February 2014, 13:12

On the 1st of February 2014, a prominent South African icon quietly celebrated its eightieth birthday. I love birthdays, and maybe some fanfare should have accompanied the founding of South African Airways on the 1st February 1934. And while no birthday wishes were forthcoming in February, I have come across a media report detailing a body found on a SAA flight. reports that upon landing at Washington’s Dulles airport on Saturday past, a body was found in the centre wheel well section of the plane. The plane had flown from OR Tambo last Wednesday and flew via Dakar, Senegal before heading to Washington in the United States.

While many issues arise from the reported incident, not least of which is the sad loss of a human life, I would like to rise above the possible critisms and rather praise the crew who landed the plane safely. I would hazard a guess that landing an international jetliner with a problem in its undercarriage is no easy task. So my first order of business is to say well done to the crew for keeping their heads, landing the plane and keeping its passengers safe and no doubt, their loved ones happy. Well done!

SAA too is to be lauded for its swift response to the matter. With the obvious security and safety concerns at hand, and despite presumably having access to aircraft technicians in the USA, South African Airways dispatched its own technicians to attend to the aircraft. Naysayers and the ready hordes of critics would point to the obvious expense of this exercise. But I am known to be an eternal optimist and my interpretation is simply that my country’s national airline treated the matter seriously and responded promptly. With the last serious accident at SAA having happened in November 1987, it is clear that the airline’s current approach is to pursue a standard of safety excellence for our benefit. A second “Well done!” is due here. My own next birthday cake might very well be in the shape of a jetliner draped in my country’s national colours.

Nicholas Smallberg

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