Heroic driver dodges injury, property damage as dirt truck lands in Krom River

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Patrick Mhlana. (Supplied)
Patrick Mhlana. (Supplied)
  • Patrick Mhlana averted injury and property damage when he steered the refuse removal truck he was driving towards the Krom River following a mechanical failure.
  • An investigation by an independent specialist found Mhlana had risked his own life to prevent the truck from running into pedestrians or parked vehicles in Wellington that day.
  • Mhlana will receive an excellence award from the Drakenstein Municipality for his efforts.

The heroics of Drakenstein Municipality refuse removal truck driver Patrick Mhlana averted injury and property damage when he steered the municipal vehicle towards the Krom River following the malfunctioning of an electronic valve in its airbrake system.

The incident happened in Wellington, the Western Cape, on 29 September.

An investigation by an independent specialist commissioned by the city manager found Mhlana had risked his own life to prevent the truck from running into pedestrians and parked vehicles.

Municipality spokesperson Riana Geldenhuys said in a statement Mhlana had that morning conducted his daily inspection of the truck, including checking the tyres, before he embarked on his refuse removal route which he had been driving for three years.

"The truck was operating fine until he stopped before the yield sign at the top of Berg en Dal roads. Despite fully activating both the hand and foot brakes, the truck started to roll backwards down the steep hill," she added.

Mhlana had called out to the municipal machine handlers at the back of the truck, urging his colleagues to get out of the way.

"While trying his best to stop the runaway truck, Mr Mhlana still managed to steer it down the hill in a controlled manner and prevent it from causing any casualties, or crashing into any private property - which would have been catastrophic.

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"He jumped off the truck at the very last minute, before the vehicle rolled down an embankment and came to a standstill in the Krom River."

Mhlana will receive an excellence award from the municipality for his efforts.

Geldenhuys said a technical independent investigation by the servicing agent showed the sudden brake failure had been caused by a low supply in pressure to the brake system which was controlled by an electronic valve.

"During a pressure test following the accident, the pressure gauge revealed a pressure of approximately two bar, whereas the norm is between 6.5 and 8.1 bar. The truck does not have a warning light or buzzer that could have warned the driver of this ahead of the accident," she added.

Before the accident, Mhlana had not experienced any problems with the brakes.

The refuse compactor truck was purchased on 1 December 2017 and its last two dealership services took place in August 2019 and February 2020, Geldenhuys said.

"The service in August 2019 included a total overhaul of the brake system on the two rear axles' eight wheels. The truck also received its certificate of fitness on 12 February 2020, which indicates that it had passed its roadworthy test. The truck's licence had subsequently been renewed on 26 February 2020.

"The truck was last fitted with new tyres on 18 December 2019, which should be able to travel for about 50 000km. By the time of the accident, the truck had added about 8 000km to its clock since its last service."

The independent investigation into the accident included a thorough inspection of the truck's tyres, indicating all 10 tyres were within the legal 1.8mm remaining tread limit before the accident, Geldenhuys said, and standard practice blood tests confirmed he had not been under the influence of alcohol at the time.

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