Oribi drama: Who is to blame for airport mishap?

2008-04-04 00:00

Speculation over who may be to blame after a jet’s wheel fell into a manhole at the Pietermaritzburg (Oribi) Airport and jet fuel was spilt on the tarmac yesterday was rife in flying circles.

A 10-seater Cessna Citation 5 sank into a manhole after the cover collapsed as the plane taxied over it on the apron of the runway.

Civil Aviation Authorities (CAA), who were coincidentally visiting the airport for a routine inspection yesterday, witnessed the incident.

Unconfirmed reports said yesterday that the municipality had been warned that the manhole cover needed attention for safety reasons.

It is believed that the metal cover may have split and ruptured the fuel tank in the wing of the aircraft, but this has not been confirmed.

Managing director of ExecuJet SA, Ettore Potti, told The Witness that the pilot had dropped passengers at the airport and was repositioning the plane when it went over the manhole and the right-hand undercarriage fell into it.

“The cover was either not secured properly, or it collapsed.” Potti said it was not yet known if the aeroplane was structurally damaged, but that technicians are to be flown in to do a full inspection.

David Gengan, acting strategic executive manager for economic development and growth at Msunduzi Municipality, said investigations by the municipality and the owner of the aeroplane and insurance companies will be undertaken.

He said that the incident occurred on a new section and that it is being investigated whether the plane had “fuelled at the right spot and made a turn at the right spot”, or if the municipality is at fault.

The plane was not carrying passengers at the time and no one was injured.

Gengan said that blame could not yet be attributed for the incident.

He said the CAA authorities were “very pleased” with the emergency procedures that kicked in when the incident occurred. “There was an aviation fuel spillage from the jet, but the response from personnel on site was immediate.”

Phindiwe Gwebu of the CAA said that inspectors were on the way to the scene yesterday afternoon.

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