KZN crash kills WW2 pilot

2009-02-15 00:00

Eighty-four-year-old Harold Braatvedt, who piloted dive bombers during World War 2, was killed at the weekend doing what he loved most — flying.

Braatvedt was the only fatality on board a Cessna 182 light aircraft that crashed in the rural Qwaximba area not far from Cato Ridge Airfield, while taking up a group of skydivers in “perfect” flying weather.

It was speculated that engine failure caused the crash, which is under investigation by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Unbeknown to his family, Braatvedt — who always “lived life to the fullest” and “adored” flying — had arranged to undertake a tandem parachute jump for the first time.

“I think he wanted to surprise us after he had already done it. It was typical of him,” his son, Gray Braatvedt of Durban said yesterday.

Two professional skydivers — Michael Nyman and Andrew MacMillan — jumped out of the plane apparently in a bid to lighten its load and managed to parachute to safety moments before the crash.

Nyman declined to be interviewed after the accident. He said yesterday the skydiving fraternity would issue a written statement, but by late yesterday it had not been received.

A stepfather — whose nine-year-old stepson was on board to prepare him for doing a tandem parachute jump himself yesterday — refused to leave the boy behind even though he was equipped with a parachute.

“He stayed with our son and held him while the plane went down,” the boy’s mother told The Witness yesterday. It was to have been her husband’s second jump.

She requested the newspaper not to publish the names of her son or husband before the boy’s biological father has been told about the accident. He was travelling and could not be reached at the weekend.

The pilot, Ernest Hulley (33), was among the survivors in hospital along with Scott MacMillan (25).

The injured — who all sustained serious or critical injuries — were all reportedly in a stable condition yesterday, police spokesman Senior Superintendent Henry Budhram said.

Gray Braatvedt told The Witness yesterday that when he visited the crash site and viewed the wreckage of the aircraft he was “amazed” that anyone survived.

Though deeply saddened by the death of his father, he said it was a comfort to the family that he died doing what he loved.

Gray Braatvedt said his father had never before spoken about doing a parachute jump and it came as a shock to him when police notified him of his death.

“He’d just arranged to do it all on his own and none of us knew,” he said.

“He was an amazing person and everyone who knew him just loved him,” he added.

Gray Braatvedt said his father always “lived life to the fullest” and above all adored flying. In June last year Braatvedt was featured in an article in Weekend Witness titled “He danced the skies again”.

The story described Braatvedt’s delight when two of his sons in Australia arranged for him to relive his experiences as a war pilot by arranging for him to fly a Mustang fighter as a surprise birthday gift.

Braatvedt is survived by three sons — Ron, Dave (both living in Brisbane) and Gray — as well as a daughter, Son Batchelor, of Gauteng. His fifth child — another daughter, Meg Chennels of Eshowe — died three years ago.

Braatvedt also leaves 15 grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

The mother of the little boy injured in the crash said she has nothing but praise for the care shown by paramedics from Netcare and members of the South African Police Service who attended the accident scene, including search and rescue officer Inspector Jack Haskins.

She is at the side of her stricken son and husband, who are recovering alongside each other in the intensive care unit at Medi-Clinic hospital. Both were said to be out of danger.

The mother said her son had not yet regained consciousness, but had been taken off a ventilator.

Apart from bleeding on the brain, he had also broken his leg and was expected to be put in traction.

“They say he will be okay, but I really want to just see him open his eyes,” she said.

She said her husband is in deep pain from injuries including a punctured lung and rib fractures.

“I am just glad they are both alive,” she said.

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