Glider crash pilot phones for help before dying

2014-05-26 13:18
(Shan Pillay, The Witness)

(Shan Pillay, The Witness)

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Mlondi Radebe, The Witness

Pietermaritzburg - A Durban pilot made a desperate call to a friend as he lay next to his dead co-pilot in a wreckage of their glider near Howick this weekend.

Dave Hall, 66, an electrical engineer from Hillcrest, and Dr Milenko Gradinski, 65, a medical officer who worked on Ascension Island, died after their unpowered glider crashed into a mountain near Mpophomeni at around 14:30 on Saturday.

One eyewitness, Sindi Ngcongo, said her teenage son had run to the crash site, where he found one pilot trapped in the wreckage, and another lying on the ground nearby.

“I couldn’t go to the mountains but my 16-year-old son Sibo went with other community members,” she said.

“They came back saying they found one man stuck in the wreckage while the other passenger was lying on the ground with blood all over, until paramedics came.”

Ngcongo said her son had “struggled to sleep” after the tragic discovery.

Experienced

Hall was the chairperson of the Howick Gliding Club. An aviation colleague, who asked not to be named, confirmed an emergency worker’s report that Hall had placed a desperate cellphone call moments after the crash, asking a friend to send for help. Hall apparently succumbed to his injuries before ER24 paramedics arrived on scene.

His co-pilot, Dr Gradinski, was reportedly killed on impact, and trapped in the crushed cockpit.

Warren Massey, a gliding instructor in Underberg, said the accident had been “very sudden - there was no time for a radio call, and we only knew about it after another pilot reported seeing the wreckage from the air”.

Massey said Hall - who had retired in December - was “very experienced”, and that the gliders were generally “very safe”.

Gradinski was senior anaesthetist at Edendale Hospital before going to work on Ascension Island. His former colleague, Dr Mona Essack, was “shocked” by the news. She said, “He was a fantastic [doctor] and was always willing to share his knowledge.”

Essack said that Gradinski’s wife, Vera, was living on the island, and that their two sons were in the United States.

Mountainous terrain

Emergency responders said the mountainous terrain hampered the response, forcing some paramedics to park at the gliding club almost a kilometre away.

A police helicopter was used to access the scene, although some hiked to the spot on foot.

ER24 paramedics spokesperson Russel Meiring said a 4x4 vehicle was eventually used to recover the bodies.

“When paramedics arrived, they discovered the small aircraft had been badly damaged,” said Meiring. “Two males had sustained fatal injuries. It is unknown what caused the crash.”

A source close to the club told The Witness that family members of both pilots were overseas, and were “distraught”.

Grant Hazell, a pilot and church pastor in Pinetown, said he had known Hall “slightly”, but that he was “an experienced, high [flight] hours pilot”.

“It’s very sad,” he said.

Investigation

Dirk Smit, chairperson of the Soaring Society of South Africa (SSSA), said “early indications” suggested there had been no mechanical failure, and that the cause of the accident was considered to be a phenomenon known as “controlled flight into terrain”.

“This, however, still needs to be determined by an official investigation,” he said.

One Mpophomeni resident who witnessed the crash, Mondli Shange, described the site as “a horror”.

Captain Lolly Moodley of the Howick SAPS said an inquest docket was being investigated.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  air crashes  |  accidents
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