Aircraft forced to land on beach

2013-02-06 00:00

A LIGHT aircraft with a Ballito couple on board was forced into an emergency landing on a Durban beach yesterday when the engine cut out in midair.

Tragedy was averted, however, when pilot Dave Jackson, with his wife Rona sitting alongside, landed safely in front of Snake Park just before midday.

Both climbed out unharmed and were barely shaken by the ordeal.

The couple had flown to Trennerys on the Wild Coast for a weekend birthday party and were making their way home after a stopover at Virginia Airport.

“I was routing to Ballito and came around the Bluff at 1 500 feet,” said Jackson. “I contacted Virginia Airport for permission to use the air space and they asked me to descend to 500 feet. As we reduced altitude we felt a vibration, we could smell oil, and the engine stopped.”

Jackson, using all his 11 000 hours of flying experience, called in a “Mayday” to Virginia and requested emergency services. He aimed the stricken aeroplane — called a Sling and made in Johannesburg by the The Airplane Factory — for the relatively deserted beach in front of Snake Park.

The long strip of sand proved a perfect choice and Jackson “floated” to the beach, made a soft landing and rolled the plane for 150 metres to a gentle stop.

“It was very simple, a non-event,” said Jackson, who owns a microlight school and has performed emergency landings before, but not in an aeroplane.

The four-year-old aircraft he was using belongs to a friend and has clocked up 203 hours in the air. Its last service was at 186 hours.

Rona said she remained calm, even after the engine backfired and died. “I was fine, I knew I was with the best.”

Surf photographer Matthew van Wieriengen captured all the drama after noticing the plane’s low altitude and spotting that the propeller was no longer turning.

He said there was a moment when he thought the plane would run out steam and smash into a pier.

“It looked a bit shaky in the beginning; it was close to the buildings. It could have been a lot worse.”

Mechanics from Virginia Airport arrived and inspected the plane. They discovered a clogged filter blocking the fuel line from the tank on the right wing.

With the left tank running on empty, there was no fuel crossing over to replenish on that side.

With the filter replaced and permission from the Civil Aviation Authority to take off, Jackson climbed inside, turned the plane around and set off back down the beach, three hours after his perfect landing.

Jackson took off to cheers from the crowd, banked left near the harbour and headed for Ballito, leaving wife Rona down below to hitch a ride home.

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