Tense Airlink passengers applaud after pilot lands faulty plane

2014-08-12 00:00

BRACE yourselves!

This was the command cabin crew shouted repeatedly to anxious passengers of an almost fully laden jet that had flown out of Pietermaritzburg Airport yesterday, as they prepared to land in Durban.

The Avro jet was due to take off from Pietermaritzburg at 8.30 am, but left at 8.45 am after a short delay.

All seemed normal at first, said passenger Bruce Gordon, of Pietermaritzburg, who commutes weekly to Johannesburg to his job as an accountant.

“We sat back to relax and wait for our food, until the pilot spoke to passengers over the speaker system 15 minutes after take-off, saying the flight was headed back to the Pietermaritzburg beacon because the landing gear didn’t come up.”

Gordon said he then looked out the window and thought the scenery looked nothing like the capital.

“I saw the sea and realised that we were over Durban.”

He said when the news broke that the plane was headed to Durban, the passengers’ reaction had been “pretty much, ‘Damn, I’m missing my meeting’”.

“We did a low-level flypast of the tower at King Shaka Airport so they could do a visual check that the wheels were down. Then we flew around over the sea and turned in over the harbour, flying back to King Shaka to land.”

Gordon said the pilot told the passengers that there may be the need for the brace position to be taken for landing, so the air hostesses demonstrated to them what to do for that eventuality.

“They showed us how to put our hands behind our heads and lean forward onto the seat in front of us.”

Gordon said as they came in to land, the air hostesses began shouting, “Brace, brace!”

The air hostesses and passengers were very nervous, but there was no panic, and fire engines had been deployed to watch them land.

“When we realised everything was okay, and we had landed safely, everyone started clapping. I didn’t realise how nervous I had been until I felt how sore my neck was.”

Gordon said the captain apologised for the problem and they were told another aeroplane would be sent to take them to Johannesburg.

Marius van der Berg was on the flight with his son Duan (10) after visiting family in Pietermaritzburg.

“The cabin crew behaved in a professional manner throughout the ordeal. We were not afraid when we heard the undercarriage wouldn’t retract; the ordeal was fairly well managed,” said Van der Berg.

Albert Morudi, the acting executive manager: Accident and Incident Investigation Division from the SA Civil Aviation Authority, said the flight experienced technical problems relating to its landing gear, which could not retract.

“The crew notified air traffic control and requested to fly over the Pietermaritzburg Airport area whilst trying to sort out the technical glitch. Five minutes later, the crew decided to divert to King Shaka International Airport. Emergency services were placed on standby at King Shaka International Airport, where the crew managed to land the aircraft safely.” He said the incident would be investigated.

“Having said that, one would hasten to add that landing gear glitches do happen infrequently, but there are various processes for dealing with such a technical fault. Furthermore, the flight crew should be commended for ensuring that the aircraft was landed safely. Whilst the incident will certainly be investigated, South Africa’s remarkable safety record in terms of airline operations should not be disregarded.”

Despite repeated attempts to get comment from Airlink, none had been received by the time of going to press.

• newsed@witness.co.za

A TV actress starred in her own drama yesterday.

Jessica Nkosi from Empangeni, who plays “Qondi” in the TV series Isibaya, tweeted, “...Had to do the “Brace command” on a plane today, never thought I’d actually do that thing, I’m still shaking”.

In another Tweet, she wrote, “Have to say welldone to that pilot though (I didn’t get his name) I didn’t expect us to land as smoothly as we did... Thank God!!”

Speaking to The Witness at King Shaka airport after her ordeal, she said, “I was scared. It was like a scene out of a movie.”


In November 2011, The Witness reported that the landing gear on SA Airlink flight SA8739 from O.R. Tambo International to Oribi also experienced a problem with the landing gear.

The flight turned back to O.R.Tambo and circled for more than two hours before landing on its belly in a dramatic emergency landing.

Among the passengers was finance writer Alec Hogg, who tweeted about the ordeal and posted videos of the plane on the runway after landing. Passengers described that flight as a “roller-coaster ride” as the pilot made sharp descending and ascending manoeuvres, shaking the plane mid-air several times in attempts to get the wheels to pop out.

The pilot kept the plane on its back wheels for a distance before allowing the nose to touch down on the tarmac and slide until it came to a standstill.

The cabin was full of smoke.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) said it would keep a close eye on the SA Airlink fleet following the emergency landing.

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