Mentor pays tribute to young pilot

2010-07-28 00:00

THE man who taught Jason Richards to fly has paid tribute to the talented young St Charles pupil as a “first-class pilot”.

Jason (17) and his father Wesley (47) died in an air crash at Wartburg on Saturday, after the aeroplane’s wing clipped a cellphone tower.

Geoff Dyer of Light Flight flying school in Cato Ridge described Jason as a “gifted pilot” whose progress was being watched with interest by the flying fraternity.

“He did very well. As an instructor I was stricter on his training than others, because I knew he wanted to fly professionally and because of his age. We had mapped out his whole flying career. After getting his private pilot’s licence, he was going to progress to his commercial licence and then his national pilot’s licence.”

He said Jason was one of the better students he has taught. “He was safety conscious and did not fly to impress. Jason was very diligent and well above average. He didn’t push the limits and wouldn’t show off. He was definitely highly competent.”

Jason had flown in the Wartburg area before, so he was familiar with the area, he added. “He wiggled the wings to greet the church pastor on the ground and then flew past. Then the wing clipped the tower, taking a two-foot piece off the wing, which then folded back and the plane spiralled down into the cane fields.”

Dyer said he was at the crash site on Sunday and Monday with officials of the Civil Aviation Authority who were doing a thorough investigation of the crash, scrutinising the pilot, the plane and the site.

“Out there at the crash site and speaking to the pastor who witnessed the incident and who is himself a pilot, it seems that low flying was the biggest problem. Jason would also have been flying into the sun. A high percentage of aeroplane crashes are caused by low flying and we are always warning pilots of the dangers of this. We can’t blame the cellphone tower. The MTN representative who went out to the scene said that Jason must have been flying at around 40 metres.”

Dyer said the cellphone tower is lit up at night, but that pilots are taught not to fly that low. “We do it with them in training, but point out the dangers and obstacles. But flying itself is inherently dangerous.”

Dyer said local pilots have been shocked by the tragedy. “A lot of them knew Jason as a gifted pilot and were interested in seeing the youngster progress.”

Dyer, the owner of the Aeroprakt A-22, said the aircraft wreckage had been taken back to his flight school at Cato Ridge. He said the aeroplane had been worth around R500 000.

Jason had just received his pilot’s licence and had taken his mother Gayle for a flight on Saturday morning, before going up with his father.

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