Crop-spraying pilot’s miracle survival after plane crash inferno

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A HOWICK pilot walked away from a plane crash inferno in a remote part of the Eastern Cape having sustained ­severe burns.

Mark “Zoog” Zank — who is believed to have been severely burnt on his legs, arm and face — crashed into a mountain range in his Turbo Thrush aircraft while spraying timber plantations in the Ugie area, north of Mthatha.

Local residents described Zank’s surviving the crash as a “miracle”, saying he had defied the odds in walking away from his burning plane. Further, he had waited an hour before any rescue services could — on foot — reach his remote location before being taken to a “poorly resourced” rural hospital.

He is currently in ICU at Inkosi ­Albert Luthuli Hospital, Durban.

Brian Jones, spokesperson for ­SACAN — a non-profit emergency service that airlifted Zank, said they expect him to make a full recovery.

“Mark is doing extremely well. He is on a ventilator, unconscious but stable. He has not broken any bones but ­sustained a chest injury,” said Jones.

Zank — who has been flying since 1992 and had stints in Mozambique and West Africa — was flying for Pietermaritzburg-based Natal Aerial Spray. Both he and his boss, Mitch Spall, were spraying the vast timber plantations belonging to PG Bison on Tuesday morning.

Spall said in a statement that Zank was in a “stable but critical condition”.

“The cause of the accident has not yet been officially established. We trust that an investigation by the South ­African Civil Aviation Authority will shed some light on the cause,” he said.

A resident in Ugie, who asked not to be named but had intimate knowledge of the crash, said Zank’s survival was “a miracle”.

“The plane was completely wrecked. You could not believe someone would survive.”

He said control room operators ­monitoring the fire-warning cameras watched the accident take place.

“They were watching the plane fly on their screen. It then disappeared behind a mountain and all they saw was smoke.

“His plane crashed at 9 am. Rescue services then had to stretcher him down a mountain before loading him into a vehicle and transporting him to the rural Maclear Hospital. The hospital usually has capacity problems, but the doctors there were truly amazing. We are lucky to have such doctors in this area.”

• jonathan.erasmus@witness.co.za

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