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Independent Online September 22, 2006

Pilot declared dead on the scene

By Ralph Surette

The pilot who died when his aircraft crashed into Table Bay off Milnerton on Friday was the sole occupant of the plane, Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) spokesperson Kanthan Pillay said.

He said the pilot's name would be released once his next of kin had been notified.

The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) said he was dead by the time rescue teams retrieved his body after the crash around 3.50pm.

"The pilot has been declared dead on-scene by paramedics," said NSRI spokesperson Craig Lambinon.

The two-seater aircraft, a privately-owned Czechoslovakian-built Aero Vodochody L-29 Delfin jet trainer, took off from Air Force Base Ysterplaat on Friday afternoon as part of a team formation flight.

The aircraft was operated by the Sasol Tiger formation aerobatic team.

SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) spokesperson Phindiwe Gwebu said the crash was being investigated and a SACAA official was already on the scene.

The body was recovered from the scene about an hour after the crash.

"It is not very good news. One person has been found, but he is DOA (dead on arrival)," a reliable Cape Town harbour source told Sapa.

According to eyewitnesses on Cape Talk radio, the body was attached to a parachute and efforts by a helicopter crew earlier to retrieve it appeared to have failed.

The aircraft was taking part in the AAD show in Cape Town, Pillay said.

He said the craft was doing a "validation flight" connected with the exhibition.

Show director Oliver Stratford said the pilot was a highly experienced former South African aerobatics champion and had logged over 2500 flight hours.

The aircraft was manufactured in 1972 and had logged about 3500 flight hours. It received its last overhaul and service in April this year.

Eyewitnesses said two groups of four planes each were practising formation flying at the time.

One flew too low and hit the water, raising "a huge spout of water".

Lambinon said by early evening that police divers were still on the scene, and efforts to recover the aircraft were underway.

The airshow, which opens on Saturday morning, is the major attraction of the two public days of the AAD 2006 trade exhibition, being held at the Ysterplaat Air Force base near Table Bay.

Transport Minister Jeff Radebe expressed his deep sadness and sincere condolences and called for a speedy and thorough investigation.

AAD 2006, billed as Africa's largest aerospace, defence, and security exhibition, was officially opened by Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota on Wednesday.

Stratford said: "Despite this tragic accident, the show's owners have determined that the air display planned for the public days tomorrow (Saturday) and on Sunday will proceed."

The show features more than 400 exhibitors from a number of countries, including Denel, Execujet, Airbus, Boeing, Saab and ThyssenKrupp Marine.

The last show, AAD 2004 in Pretoria, drew more than 22 000 professional trade visitors from Africa and beyond.

Apart from the Tigers, aerobatic teams scheduled to take part in the weekend airshow included the SA Air Force Silver Falcons, the Flying Lions, Wesbank Pitts and Mazda Zoom Zoom.

It is not the first time that the Sasol Tiger team lost a plane.

In September last year Sasol Tiger Team pilots, Gabriel Siyabonga Ndabandaba and Johnny "Jet" Hattingh, were killed when their L-29-Delfin, crashed into the ground during a airshow in Vereeniging.

The two pilots had broken away from their four-plane display formation to begin a solo when their plane spiralled out of control, hit the ground and burst into flames.

It is not the first time that a plane crash has marred the AAD shows either.

In 2002 an Air Force Harvard training aircraft hit the ground shortly before it was due to take part in a air display over Waterkloof Air Force Base. The pilot survived with minor injuries.

A few hours later a Harvard belonging to the Flying Lions Air display team, who were also taking part in the show, was forced to do an emergency landing in an open field near Irene.

The L-29 Delfin, which has a maximum speed of 655kmh, was the first jet aircraft ever designed and built in Czechoslovakia. "Delfin" is Czech for dolphin.

The two-seater, 3500kg craft was designed in the late 1950s as a replacement for piston-engined trainers used by the Czechoslovak Air Force, and went into production in 1963.

About 3600 aircraft were completed by the time production at the Aero Vodochody plant near Prague ceased in 1974.

About 3000 were delivered to the Soviet Union. Other customers included the Czech Air Force, the German Democratic Republic, Romania, Syria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, Uganda and Iraq.

According to the website GlobalSecurity.org, the aircraft has a "robust air-frame" and can operate from rough grassy, sandy and muddy fields.

In training, the pupil and the instructor are seated one behind the other in synchronised ejection seats.

It has been used in combat; armed Egyptian L-29s were sent into combat against Israeli tanks during the Yom Kippur War.


Copyright 2006, Independent Online