Date of accident: October 5 2008

Time of accident: 1338Z (1538 local time)

Aircraft registration: ZS-OSD

Type of aircraft: Brittan-Norman Islander

Pilot age: 21

Licence type: CPL with Instrument Rating

Pilot-in-command flying experience: Total flying hours: 275.7

Hours on Type: 9.6

Last point of departure: Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport

Next point of intended landing: New Tempe aerodrome (Bloemfontein)

Location of the accident site: Near Barberton (S25º40.739 E30º44.907)

Meteorological information: Adverse weather conditions prevailed in the area

Number of people on board: 1 + 8

Number of people injured: 0

Number of people killed: 9

The pilot, accompanied by eight passengers, departed from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport on a visual flight rules (VFR) flight to New Tempe aerodrome. Approximately 20 minutes after departure a witness observed the aircraft flying at a height of approximately 1000ft (AGL) in a wings-level attitude over his farm in the direction of the mountains.

Thick mist covered approximately one third of the top of the mountains at the time. He then lost sight of the aircraft, and approximately two minutes later heard an explosion. He immediately notified the Kruger Mpumalanga Airport authorities who initiated a search and rescue operation after the appropriate authorities had been informed.

The main wreckage was located the following day during the air search operation, approximately 50m below the mountain top in the Barberton area. The aircraft had ploughed through a pine tree plantation and had been destroyed by the post-impact fire. All the occupants had been fatally injured in the accident.

Probable cause
The pilot, flying a VFR certified aircraft, encountered adverse weather (IMC) conditions en route during a VFR flight, which resulted in controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) near the top
of the mountain.

Jim’s analysis
Looks pretty straightforward, but let me give you some more info from the main body of the report and you will realise what a terrifyingly unnecessary crash this was. The pilot involved in the accident had converted to the Islander by doing just 2.6 hours of dual. The trip was a weekend holiday for two families; the accident happened on the return flight. The aircraft was loaded to about 400lbs over gross. The report says:

Before departure the pilot was very concerned about the weather, and was not keen to fly at all. The staff at the lodge noticed that the pilot was spending an unusually long time on the internet and questioned him about it. The pilot expressed his concerns about the weather to the staff at the lodge and attempted to convince the owner of the aircraft to delay their departure, but only managed to convince him to delay departure for another hour. Staff at the lodge observed that the pilot was intimidated into flying, against his own judgment, by the owner of the aircraft. Four of the passengers were school children who had to return to school, which placed additional pressure on the pilot to conduct the flight.

Before departure from the lodge, the lodge owner expressed concern to the aircraft owner as to the large amount of luggage to be loaded into the aircraft, saying that he would need to attach a trailer to the aircraft to carry all the luggage and curios.

What can we learn?
The message is simple - “Don’t be bullied”. But the application can be really difficult, particularly if you are a young pilot and desperately want to hang on to your job. My first job as a commercial pilot was flying a 235 Cherokee for a charter company in Kimberley. My boss then bought a shiny new Twin Comanche because he understood it was an “all weather aircraft”. Soon after getting the twin I had to fly him to Bloemfontein for a business meeting. When we arrived, the mother and father of all thunderstorms sat on top of the airfield like a fat hen. It covered the whole area and it wasn’t moving. I circled the storm for some time looking for a way in.

Eventually I told Bert I wasn’t prepared to stick my nose into it. He blew a fuse, but I stuck to my guns and headed back to Kimberley. He fired me and said he would find a pilot who wasn’t scared of the weather. The next day I ignored my firing and was in my office, which was next to his. I overheard him telling some nervous potential charter pax that they would be fine because I was the safest pilot in the world!

After that I developed a trick that has worked for me ever since. I visualise the chirping pax as wooden boxes of freight that are somehow making a noise. I simply ask myself if I would carry this freight on this flight in this weather. It works like a charm. If our youngster in the Islander had used this trick he would be alive today. I appeal to pilots under pressure to be brave cowards. Tell the boss/customer/pax firmly that you aren’t prepared to overload or fly in this weather or whatever. No one really minds staying an extra night when they get used to the idea. And you almost certainly won’t be fired. Once the dust has settled you will be respected for your safety conscious attitude.

There is a chilling PS here too. The aircraft hit the mountain about 150ft below its summit – had the pilot refused to overload the aircraft by 400lbs it almost certainly would’ve cleared the peak.

Jim Davis has 15,000 hours of immensely varied flying experience, including 10,000 hours civil and military flying instruction. He is an established author, his current projects being an instructors’ manual and a collection of Air Accident analyses, called Choose Not To Crash. Visit Jim's website by clicking here.

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