Chopper pilot calmly lands on soccer field after engine fails

2008-08-11 00:00

The best thing Dean Coetzer (25) could do when he realised that his helicopter was about to crash was to remain calm.

The pilot and his three passengers narrowly escaped death and climbed out of the wrecked helicopter, which crash-landed on a soccer field, without a single injury.

The incident happened following engine failure while they were flying over Ladysmith in northern KZN at noon on Sunday.

Coetzer and his friends had hired two helicopters from Starlite Charter and Aviation in Johannesburg.

Police spokeswoman Captain Charmaine Struwig told Sapa that the helicopter was flying at about 6 500 feet when its engine failed.

“When the entire attempt to avoid the crash had failed, I remained calm and selected a spot to crash-land. This was after I had taken all emergency precautions,” said Coetzer.

He was flying with Jennifer Joubert (30), Vince Peche (25) and Sally-Jane Boyd (21). They were destined for Rand Airport in Germiston, flying from Richards Bay, and were going to refuel in Ladysmith.

Coetzer, who received his helicopter pilot’s licence from Starlite in March this year, said he first saw the engine RPM gauge dropping before realising that the engine was dead.

Seeing the danger they were facing, Coetzer asked his passengers to remain calm. He then informed the pilot of the other helicopter flying ahead of him.

“I did the auto rotation as I was trained to do during my flying lessons. I then looked for a suitable spot to crash-land, and found a soccer field, which had no people near it. If I had not found the soccer field I was going to look for a ploughed field. But I knew I had to avoid landing in long grass as the engine could have caught fire,” said Coetzer.

He and his passengers were fine after the accident, although they were still shaken. He told The Witness the accident will not stop him from flying again.

“When we returned to the crash site from Johannesburg this morning, I asked the owner of the helicopter to allow me to fly the machine we were in, and he agreed. I will never stop flying helicopters,” he said.

Starlite MD Buzz Bezuidenhout confirmed that the accident was the result of a technical problem.

“[The helicopter] was so badly damaged that it won’t fly again. [Coetzer] won’t have to pay for the damage because the machine was insured,” said Bezuidenhout.

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