Bystanders pepper-sprayed after plane crash

2012-04-30 12:37
Durban - Horrified eyewitnesses of Sunday's fatal plane crash in Margate were pepper-sprayed as they tried to come to the aid of the pilot and his passenger caught in the inferno.

The experimental aircraft burst into flames on takeoff at about 11:00 at Margate Airport, killing the woman passenger and seriously injuring the pilot, who sustained 80% burns.

The couple were reportedly from Pinetown and the plane was based at Camperdown.

The pilot, whose name is known to The Witness but whose details were not officially released, was first stabilised at Margate Hospital before being airlifted to Durban’s St Augustine’s Hospital, where he is in a critical condition.

Pilot tried to avoid homes

On going down, the aircraft went through a fence before entering bush close to homes in a residential area, eyewitnesses said.

Photographer Jacques Sellschop, who was in a helicopter taking pictures of the Africa Bike Week event, said that when a Mayday call came over the air, helicopter pilot John Rud­ling immediately diverted to the accident scene.

“Unfortunately the flames and heat were too intense to land and it appeared evident from the air that little could be done to assist the pilot and his passenger in the burning aircraft,” he said.

“Eyewitnesses who saw the plane take off, said the pilot apparently lost engine power as he approached the end of the runway and sent out the Mayday call.

“It would appear that he might have deliberately put the plane down into the fence in an effort to avoid hitting the houses that lay directly in his path.

“Netcare’s emergency response vehicles summoned from the Margate Hospital reached the scene within four minutes,” Sellschop said.

Horrified witnesses rushed towards the crash, within the airport perimeter, but emergency service officers prevented them from doing so.

Some found themselves on the receiving end of pepper spray.

Hibiscus Coast Municipality Director Protection Services, Victor Chetty, said: “Unfortunately we have prescribed emergency procedures to adhere to.

“Officers did use pepper spray. It was to contain people wanting to get on to the airport. These officials have strict instructions on crowd control.

“I can understand why people wanted to help in the principle of ubuntu, or in trying to help their fellow man, but unfortunately we couldn’t do anything else because we had to adhere to the prescribed regulations.

Engine cut off

Craig Ralph, vice-president of the Experimental Aircraft Association and president of its local chapter, said the aircraft was one of around 100 that had brought members to the annual general meeting in Margate.

Experimental aircraft are generally home-assembled, though some may be factory-assembled. They also include aircraft that fall under a certain weight category.

The AGM had ended on Saturday night.

Margate Airport Manager Graham Berriman told the Witness it appeared that the pilot’s engine had cut off, resulting in a crash landing.

“The plane landed on the rocks, but we cannot at this stage know exactly what caused the accident until the investigation is completed,” said Berriman.

He said the aircraft was a Rally Echo.

Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson Phindiwe Gwebu said an investigation was under way and confirmed that the aircraft was a Rally aircraft.

People in the aviation fraternity told the Witness they were shocked and saddened, but did not wish to comment further.

Margate police spokesperson, Sergeant Pumzile Makaula said the pilot sustained 80% burns.

“He’s still in a critical condition,” Netcare 911 spokesperson Chris Botha.

The name of the deceased passenger had not yet been made public.

- Were you there? Send us your eyewitness accounts.

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