Thursday, 1 March 2012

Boo Boo on the Transvaal

Cessna Agwagon

South Africa.


Late 1970

My first day working in South Africa.

It's my first flight and I'm taking off to spray a small field of corn, for weeds, the field is below and in  easy sight of the strip.
I believe the Boss will be watching? just to confirm my ability to apply chemicals and fly low at the same time," Boss Terry" more than likely uses this field to check out all his new pilots.

As I approach the field I could see it was rectangle in shape, and about 15 hectares, there are no obstacles in the turning area, with power lines across the Eastern end of the field, which will be no problem? to get under, as I go in and out of the field. A nice easy field to start with!
Famous last words?

I made a quick flight around the field to confirm the briefing info I had received about the field.
My plan was to spray east and west, up and down sun and parallel to the rising terrain.

I reduced power and let down into the field at 110 knots, crossing the field boundary
I commenced spraying, as I covered the field, I got a closer look at the power cable and support poles, it was the three cable type, T shape, passing under it will leave a safety margin of 6 feet, no worries!
I saw the straining wire that supports the pole directly ahead in the field, as I approached the staining wire I skidded out and around it went under the cables and climbed up to 100 feet and entered into a procedure turn bringing me back to the field alongside my previous run, so descending back into the field as I passed under the power line I commenced to spray again . I continued to spray the field in this way until with about two runs to go, and during a descending manoeuvre to go under the wires and enter the field.

 Fate showed its face.

A large flock of Guinea fowl broke cover in front of me; I ploughed through them getting covered with bits of their bodies, feathers and blood, loosing my forward visibility, the desire to pull up and away was overwhelming, but I was committed to going under the wires. There was no-way out?

I felt the judder of the starboard wing as the straining wire cut through it at the wing strut, in an instant it was gone, now I was going sideways with half a wing missing. A useless piece of information flashed through my mind! "Keep flying the aircraft" just as the port wing struck the ground, ripping it off, throwing me and the aircraft into the air! The next thing to flash through my
mind was ? "pearly gates here I come". The aircraft rotated around in the air striking the ground again and breaking loose the tail section and continue on, smashing the engine from the airframe and then it stopped in the upright position.This all happened in less than 10 seconds, I was stunned but by some miracle? unhurt!

I just sat there and continued with the engine shut down procedure and shut off the fuel.
How crazy is that? I had no engine and my fuel was spread all around me, it was a surreal feeling, I wasn't even sure, how much of my body was still with me.
I slowly came back to reality and my mind screamed ! Fire! get the hell away from this aircraft! Somehow during all of this I had jettisoned one of the doors.
I released my harness and tried to climb out, my shoulders felt painful and stiff, also my feet didn't feel right. I new in my mind that pilots usually broke their ankles in these sort of landings !
But fire is not a good way to go! so I climbed out and staggered away from the aircraft.
When I could no longer smell fuel, I sat down, doing a bit of self assessment, I decided! I had just about got away scot free, my shoulders weren't that bad an my feet were okay,

So my mind turned to the next wee problem? What was the boss going to say? after watching me  smash his $150,000 aircraft to bits ? and having the cheek to live!
The boss and ground crew came down and picked me up and we returned to the Hangar, nobody could believe I wasn't hurt. I sat down and had a hot drink then I got up and walked around, I continued doing that, to keep mobile, until the ambulance arrived, they had a look at me? and that was that. Hot bath time!

The next day I turned up at the hangar, I had some painful bruising starting to show and I was a bit stiff, but I was fine.
To my surprise, they had recovered most of the aircraft, Well all the main bits? and they were laid out on the hanger floor.
The boss came out of his office and shook my hand welcoming me to South Africa! his little joke.

We talked a bit about the accident, he said "he watched me as I approached to go below the cables and enter the field, and he knew I was in trouble! when he saw the flock of Guinea fowl rise in front of me, said he was surprised, I didn't crash straight into the ground and then he watched his aircraft rolling across the field  breaking up every time it came in contact with the ground, every time the aircraft contacted the ground it slowed down and by the time it stopped it had no forward speed left. So? no sudden stop? saving my life!

Boss Terry (as he was called) was a serious Africaans Christian and felt we should all go to church after this incident and as he put it "give thanks" I declined this offer saying "I wasn't a religious person"

About a week later the engineer asked Terry and me to look at the back of the seat out of the crashed plane, (by this time I was back flying full time). The engineer had found one of the engine mount bolts had broken off during the crash, passing back through the instrument panel and embedded its- self in the back of the seat!
Which you'd think it couldn't do, without first passing through me? as that's where I was harnessed to. But then crashes always create mysteries and this is just one of them?
Of course Boss Terry wanted to  to go to church again, which I side tracked again.
Over the years I worked for Terry, I side tracked his church quite a few times? I did on the odd occasion visit his church with his family.
I always enjoyed their company and Terry made me feel special, but I felt his religion wasn't for me?

I would always say when pressed for an answer "When and if I get to the pearly gates and the lord asks me, "What did I do with the life he gave me?" I will say "My best!" and if that don't work, I'll be in trouble.


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