Good Samaritan comes to rescue of police in chopper crash

2011-01-21 11:35

Medical technologist Melanie Lewis was at the right place at the right time when a police helicopter came crashing down “like a rock” in Wonderboompoort, Pretoria this morning.

“We saw it in the air, and then it just went down like a rock,” she said.

The pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Koosie de Villiers, and his crewman Lieutenant Colonel Shabir Khan were both seriously injured in the crash.

Lewis was on her way to work, at 8.10am, driving along Mansfield Road, when she saw the helicopter “go down, and never come up”.

The aircraft was travelling in a southerly direction and crashed in a park in the area, about 150m from offices and houses.

“I arrived at the scene to find that both men were flung from the wreckage.

“The first thing I heard one of them say was something about failure. The passenger said he was fine, but I told him to lie on the grass. The pilot complained that his back was very sore, so I couldn’t move him. He also had a few lacerations from broken glass,” she said.

The pilot then asked her to dial the number of his wife, so he could tell her what happened.

“He told her, ‘I must tell you something. We have crashed, but I’m fine’. He then called Wonderboom airport to report the crash.”

Lewis, who is a member of the sector policing forum, said she was fortunate enough to have a radio in her car, which allowed her to contact paramedics and officials.

“I reported the incident and they were there within minutes. It was actually amazing.”

She described the aircraft as being a “total mangled wreck”, with no windows left as it “was all smashed up”.

“There was broken glass everywhere. A wheel was lying about 20 metres away and one of the seats was completely smashed in.

“There was no fire, but loads of smoke. Once authorities arrived, the area was cordoned off as curious people started arriving in the hundreds. They said it was very dangerous to be near,” she said, adding that the occupants were taken to hospital.

Lewis said when she eventually got to work, people in the office asked why she was so sweaty.

“I told them, you will never believe what happened. Everybody was in shock when I did. I promise you, it was like a scene from a movie.”

National police spokesperson Brigadier Sally de Beer said the officers were transferring the chopper from Wonderboom airport to the helipad at the Pretoria police school.

“The aircraft was going to be used for training.”

De Beer confirmed engine failure had caused the aircraft to crash.

Both officers were in a stable condition in Unitas Hospital.

“They have sustained back and neck injuries, but are fine and doing well.”

Tshwane ward councillor Dana Wannenburg commended the pilot on his decision to direct the aircraft into the park.

“It’s so close to the houses and businesses, he really made an excellent call,” he said.

Lewis said she would visit the officers in hospital to see how they were doing.

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