Great escapes galore as body count after 14 air calamities is ... one blesbok
One dead blesbok, one injured pilot, numerous piles of wreckage and 19 lucky pilots and passengers.
That's the tally from the latest crop of investigation reports posted by the SA Civil Aviation Authority after midair emergencies between last November and March.
The blesbok was killed when a helicopter's spinning tail rotor hit its head during a game-capturing operation in the Free State on March 10.
The incident in Paul Roux also accounted for the sole human casualty, a 30-year-old pilot who climbed out of his wrecked Schweizer 269C and called his company, Helicon, with news of the crash before being taken to hospital in Bloemfontein with serious injuries.
The CAA report said the pilot was trying to force a herd of blesbok into a boma.
“While flying about a foot (30cm) above ground level, the pilot felt a bump which originated from the tail section. He then pulled the collective pitch lever with the intention to climb, but without success,” it said.
“The helicopter entered a spin that the pilot could not recover from and the helicopter impacted the ground very hard. [It] was destroyed.”
Farms — specifically crop-spraying — were involved in three other incidents reported on by CAA investigators.
On December 31, the 34-year-old pilot of an Air Tractor 502A hit an 11kV power line 6.3m above the ground on a farm in Hartswater, Northern Cape.
“The pilot stated that after the accident, he flew back to Hartswater private airstrip and landed safely on the gravel runway. The aircraft sustained damage to the left-side leading edge, wing spar, windshield and wiper, antennae, and the tail section,” said the CAA report.
An Air Tractor 502B was substantially damaged by power cables on January 25 while spraying fertiliser on a maize field near Sedibeng in Gauteng.
The 55-year-old pilot told investigators he was aiming to fly under the high-tension cables while preparing for a spray run when the top section of the plane's vertical stabiliser hit one, jamming the rudder.
“The pilot was unable to maintain lateral or longitudinal control of the aircraft and opted to reduce the throttle to idle and performed a forced landing on the maize field approximately 600m from where the collision occurred,” said the report.
A 63-year-old pilot in another crop-spraying calamity — this time on a soybean field in Mpumalanga in February — escaped unhurt but could be in trouble for flying without an agricultural pilot rating.
He was flying his amateur-built Zenith Stol CH750 about 3.3m above the ground when soybean plants became “entangled on the spray boom (the structure that supports spray nozzles along the wingspan of the aircraft) and the aircraft flipped over, coming to rest in an upside-down position”, said the report.
The investigator said the pilot was flying so low he had left himself “very little margin for error”.
Pilot error cropped up again in a report into the forced landing of a Cessna U206G on an Mpumalanga farm on February 8.
The 45-year-old pilot and a camera operator took off from Kitty Hawk Aerodrome in Pretoria East to survey power lines between Matla power station in Mpumalanga and OR Tambo International Airport.
Every 30 minutes or so, the pilot switched the fuel selector between the plane's two tanks, and after just over three hours she decided to head to Secunda to refuel.
“The pilot stated that as she picked up the survey power line at the far side of Matla power station, the aircraft experienced a total loss of engine power,” said the report.
“The pilot then carried out the emergency procedure for engine restart in-flight. When this failed, she elected to execute a forced landing on a private farm which had overgrown grass that concealed holes on the ground. The aircraft was substantially damaged.”
Investigators found 250ml of fuel in one tank and 50 litres in the other, and attributed the mishap to “fuel mismanagement”.
The pilot told them it was her first power line survey, and she found the level of concentration required intense.
Investigators said: “During a power line survey, the pilot is required to fly a straight line without any variations in attitude or altitude. The pilot is also required to make the necessary radio calls and keep a vigilant lookout for other aircraft. This translates to a high workload in the cockpit for one pilot.”
They recommended that the director of civil aviation investigate a regulation to require two crew members during power-line surveys, and said operators of such flights should implement this anyway.
Last November, a pilot's error that led to his plane lying upside-down and destroyed at Middelburg Aerodrome in Mpumalanga was failing to account for his 130kg heft and the 100kg his passenger weighed.
Between them, the pair made the Cheetah 912 ULS they hoped to fly about Loskop Dam 66kg too heavy, and investigators said: “The aircraft was overweight and could not climb at an expected rate. It rapidly lost height, resulting in the pilot crash-landing the aircraft.
“In the interest of safety, all pilots are reminded of the importance of following the manufacturer’s limitations on every aircraft they fly as that will prevent injuries and damage to property.”
The pilots in two more incidents struggled to land, rather than to fly, and both ended up with substantial damage to their planes.
One incident happened on February 13 at Kitty Hawk Aerodrome, where the 47-year-old pilot of a Ravin 500 aircraft was landing his aircraft and its three passengers after a 40-minute flight from Thabazimbi Aerodrome in Limpopo.
“It appeared as though the pilot was high when he decided to flare, which meant the aircraft lost forward speed and lift and experienced a high rate of descent before landing hard,” said investigators.
Two days earlier, a 25-year-old student pilot completed three touch-and-go circuits in a Cessna 172M at Wonderboom National Airport in Pretoria, accompanied by his instructor.
The student carried on doing circuits during a “solo consolidation flight” and ballooned the plane during his second landing before it bounced hard on its nose landing gear, smashing it.
Investigators attributed the incident to the pilot's lack of experience and said he had since completed a remedial flight with his instructor.
Power lines played a role again in a drama that involved a Bell 206B helicopter that joined a search for a missing person along the Crocodile River in North West on March 18.
The 26-year-old pilot told investigators he was flying about 8m above the ground when he saw something in the river and looked down.
“When he looked up again, he spotted power lines in his flight path and decided to fly underneath them to avoid impact,” said the report.
“One of the main rotor blades impacted the power lines and the pilot performed a precautionary landing. The pilot was able to land the helicopter safely without any further damage. [He and his passenger] were not injured.”
A gust of wind from an approaching storm was blamed by investigators for a calamity suffered by the 51-year-old pilot of a Savanna S as it landed on a private airstrip in Coligny, North West, on February 28.
“The pilot stated that upon landing, the aircraft encountered a gust of wind from the right side of the aircraft which caused him to lose directional control,” said the report.
“The aircraft veered off to the left side towards a field with vegetation. This was followed by a nose strut that broke off, as well as one of the propeller blades that broke off closer to the root.”
Investigators obtained infrared satellite images from the SA Weather Service and said a thunderstorm was approaching the farm from the northwest when the plane landed at 4.30pm.
“It is likely that the gust of wind experienced by the pilot was one of many rapid bursts of wind from an outflow boundary of a thunderstorm,” they said.
“Unexpected rapid, strong gusts of wind at intervals not readily recorded, as well as thunderstorm activities, could affect aircraft as far as 100km away.”
The 63-year-old pilot of a RAF 2000GTX SE gyrocopter tried to blame a cross wind for a landing that overturned and wrecked his aircraft at Mossel Bay Aerodrome on February 10.
But investigators said the cause was more likely to be the speed of the landing, which was about 16km/h faster than recommended.
“The pilot stated that during the landing roll, a crosswind from the right pushed the gyrocopter to the left side and the pilot subsequently lost control,” said the report.
“The pilot attempted to recover, however the gyrocopter rolled to the left and came to rest on its left side.”
Investigators said weather conditions were variable but “could not have caused a significant impact on the gyrocopter during this flight”.
Instead, by landing at 112km/h instead of the recommended 96km/h, the pilot disregarded “safe operating procedure limitations”, they said. “The gyrocopter was not stable on approach and it landed hard before the pilot lost control.”
The engine of a Raven aircraft stopped while the 60-year-old pilot and his passenger were enjoying a sightseeing flight on January 7 above the village of Bray in North West.
Investigators were assisted by cellphone video footage shot by the passenger and said: “The propeller blades are seen spooling down until they come to a stop; then the pilot switches on the fuel pump and selects the engine start on the master switch.
“The propeller turns momentarily and then stops, suggesting that the starter motor was just turning the engine.
“The pilot tries to restart several times without success. He then glides the aircraft, aiming for a gravel road.”
After touchdown, the aircraft's left wing hit fence poles, forcing it to spin about as it came to a halt.
Investigators said: “A post-inspection by the aircraft maintenance organisation revealed that the fuel filter was clogged with a silicon-like substance. This resulted in fuel starvation to the engine during flight.”
The final incident involving manned flights happened at The Coves Aerodrome near Hartbeespoort Dam on January 23, when the 51-year-old pilot of an Extra EA-300L aerobatics plane failed to secure his canopy properly.
“During the take-off run whilst at full power, the canopy blew open. The pilot tried to grab the canopy handle to close it but he was not successful,” said the report.
“He applied the brakes and moved the throttle back to abort the take-off roll, and as a result the aircraft tilted forward and the propeller blade tips scraped the ground.”
The 14th investigation report posted this week looked at the destruction of a drone that was tracking cable thieves at Glencore's Goedgevonden Mine near Ogies in Mpumalanga on January 16.
The pilot of the DJI Matrice-200 told investigators the drone was about 500m away from him and 41m above the ground when he saw eight suspects carrying the cable and notified security guards of their location.
“About 12 minutes and 45 seconds into the flight, an electronic speed control malfunctioned, which resulted in the aircraft spiralling down and crashing,” said the report.
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