Train hits plane after emergency landing

2012-05-11 14:54
The Cessna four-seater plane that crash-landed near Balgowan in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, and was then clipped by a train. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

The Cessna four-seater plane that crash-landed near Balgowan in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, and was then clipped by a train. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - Having survived a crash-landing in the Midlands on Thursday afternoon, a Pretoria pilot and his passenger cheated death a second time minutes later when a train smashed into their plane.

The four-seater Cessna, with pilot Gerald van Zyl at the controls, had flown in from Durban’s Virginia Airport to a farm in Nottingham Road, where he and his passenger did fly fishing. The men, who are said to be from Pretoria, were flying back to Gauteng in the afternoon when they apparently lost their bearings.

They spotted the private Zinkwazi airfield near Michaelhouse school in Balgowan, and they tried to make an emergency landing.

Overshot runway

However, the plane overshot the runway, went down a slope at the end of the runway and landed on a railway line.

Fortunately both men walked away uninjured, although they were jolted as the plane crashed over large rocks, damaging its undercarriage, smashing its nose and severely damaging the engine. The nose wheel also broke off.

Just minutes later, a cargo train clipped a wing of the stricken plane. It appeared the train driver had been told of the crash and had slowed down his approach.

Van Zyl said he would not comment on the incident as it was under investigation by the Civil Aviation Authority.

“All I can say is that we are fine: no injuries or bruises. We are very very lucky that it [the crash landing] went the way it did.”

Jan Jefferies, owner of the Zinkwazi airfield and the first person at the scene, said the crash could have been a lot worse.

Train tried to brake


“When I got there and saw no people around, I thought they were still trapped in the plane. But then I saw them outside, taking their things out of the plane. They were fine. I had to tow the plane off the twin railway lines as the train was approaching slowly. I believe the driver had been told to slow down because of the crash. He was trying to brake, but the train still crashed into the plane’s wing.”

Jefferies said the plane landed in the middle of the runway. “He should have taken off again, but instead the plane went down the slope and crashed at the railway line.”

Jefferies was unimpressed with the unauthorised landing. “During the brief conversation we had, they told me that they were going to land and then call me, but that is not how these things are done and I did not see any emergency.”

Nevertheless, he was happy that no one was killed or injured.

“Any landing that you walk away from is a good landing,” he said.

This was the fourth plane crash in KwaZulu-Natal in the last two weeks.

- Were you there? Send us your eyewitness accounts and photos.
Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  air crashes
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