Dramatic rescue after motorglider lands in dam
WELL-KNOWN local aviator Paul Harrington will be forever grateful to the boaties who rescued him from his burning motorglider, which he was forced to ditch in Peter Faust Dam on Sunday morning.
Mr Harrington said he was flying his AMT-200 motorglider on his way to Burketown via Georgetown in order to surf the Morning Glory, a massive roll cloud that can propel gliders to incredible speeds.
However, his journey was cut short in a dramatic fashion.
Mr Harrison was travelling at 4000ft over Peter Faust Dam when smoke began to fill the cockpit, making it difficult to breathe.
“I opened the side windows and put my hand out to try and get air in but it wasn’t enough, so I decided to jettison the canopy.”
The canopy released only partway before jamming, at which point flames leapt up through the front right hand side of the plane and over the top of the stainless steel firewall.
Mr Harrington said he applied his airbrakes fully to get down as quickly as he could due to the “intense heat”.
“It’s a hard choice. You can either stay with the plane and burn to death, which is pretty awful, or jump out and be killed instantly. I wasn’t wearing a parachute,” he said.
Mr Harrington decided to stay with the plane and aimed for an area in front of a speedboat he had seen traversing the lake, in case he was knocked unconscious by the force of the impact and needed rescuing.
“I must have hit the water at about 90 miles an hour. I was aiming to do a stall on landing but the heat was too intense so from about 40ft up I put the nose down and plummeted in,” he said.
“It wasn’t bad. I was wide awake and I punched out, got my harness off, jumped over the side to cool off.”
Two boats quickly came to Mr Harrington’s aid and towed him back to shore before extinguishing the fire with the wash from their propellers.
Mt Julian resident Jan Botes said was onboard one of the boats.
“The plane was on fire so we reversed up to it with the boat and lifted the propeller and pumped water onto the plane,” he said.
Mr Botes’ friend Norm Dansey was with him onboard and said that in hindsight it was probably dangerous to put out the fire.
“It was debatable whether you should or not, but we did. You’ve got to help when you can,” he said.
“It’s not something you run into every day. Anyone would’ve done the same.”
The motorglider was towed to shore and lifted out of the dam on Sunday afternoon.
Mr Harrington was taken to Proserpine Hospital for smoke inhalation and released on Monday afternoon.
He said he was not sure how he escaped unharmed.
“Everything was burned around me. All the instruments were burned, the stuff alongside me, my luggage, that was all burned. And yet not even a hair was singed,” he said.
Mr Harrington said he wanted to thank everyone who helped him.
“People have been so good to me, so helpful. The guys in the boats, the people in the hospital – I can’t thank them enough.”
ON DRY LAND: Mt Julian residents Jan Botes, Norm Dansey and Sunwater storage supervisor Mark Hobbs inspect Paul Harrington's AMT-200 motorglider after it was hauled out of Peter Faust Dam on Sunday.