WoF pilot takes crash in his stride

2012-11-23 00:00

ULCO — A pilot for Working on Fire (WoF), and his passenger were lightly injured when he had to make a difficult emergency landing in a spotter plane near a raging fire.

The spotter plane flies ahead of the WoF helicopter to find water near fires, as the helicopter’s optimum range with a 1 500 kg bucket is within 10 km of a fire.

The pilot, Waldi Swanepoel, and his passenger, Graham Sahling, from the Department of Agriculture, were busy plotting co-ordinates of farm dams when their plane developed engine trouble.

When he lost power, Swanepoel skillfully dodged electricity wires to glide the Cessna down to an open field.

After he saw the wrecked plane, Saayman Rossouw, provincial co-ordinator of WoF, said some skillful flying had prevented serious injury. “He narrowly missed them [the electrical wires],” said Rossouw.

The plane was irreparably damaged.

After being flown by army helicopter to the Mediclinic Kimberley for treatment, Swanepoel is back on duty in the air again today to spot water for the chopper.

Rossouw said WoF has so far in November already helped to put out 27 fires in the Northern Cape. WoF was assisting farmers in the Koopmanfontein area yesterday, where 10 fires had this week destroyed 100 000 hectares of grazing.

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