The Herald (South Africa)
Plane lands on busy N2 road
IN what he described as the shortest seven minutes of his life, a George pilot safely landed a plane at the weekend – on the busy N2 in Colchester.
Wynand van Niekerk, 29, and his passenger, John-Voght Roussow, 25, who is also an aircraft technician, were forced to land the small four-seater aircraft at about 11am on Saturday after realising mid-air that the plane had an air blockage in the fuel line preventing fuel from getting to the engine.
The two were en route to Port Elizabeth to refuel before heading home to George. They had been to Fort Beaufort to assess a Jabiru light aircraft on Friday.
While describing the emergency landing as stressful, Van Niekerk said their lives were not in danger.
“We were obviously stressing as it is a very uncommon thing to happen. Luckily, we both have many flight hours to our names and know what to do.
“After we landed I was a bit in shock as you don’t land on a national road in front of cars every day.
“We realised there was a problem when the fuel light came on. I took the side panel off the inside of the aircraft and saw there was an airlock and no fuel was going through. That is when we made a call to do a precautionary landing.”
Van Niekerk alerted the Port Elizabeth Air Traffic Control.
“We told them we were going to do an emergency landing on the N2 near Sundays River.
“I circled the road once looking for a gap between the vehicles and then came in low above the vehicles and landed. As I was landing I had to accelerate to ensure that I outran the cars,” he said.
Van Niekerk managed to land the plane safely, not knowing how the motorists behind him were reacting.
“Once we landed on the road I turned the engine off and veered on the grass middle island. It was definitely an experience. The main concern was to land in a safe area and in an area where the wings wouldn’t clip something.”
Emergency services, including the traffic department and ambulances, were sent to the scene.
“Luckily, we were not injured during the incident. It took us about seven minutes to land after making that judgment call. It was the shortest seven minutes of my life.
“Fortunately, we managed to fix the problem as John is the mechanic for these aircraft,” Van Niekerk said.
Meanwhile, traffic officials blocked the N2 for about 20 minutes to allow the aircraft to take off.
“We then routed to Port Elizabeth Airport where we refuelled and headed back home to George,” Van Niekerk said.
“It was a different experience, but I think because I have been an instructor and taught this so many times, instinct just kicked in.”
Helicopter Charter and Training Flight instructor John Huddlestone said the execution of such a landing was not easy.
“The pilot did well to do such a difficult landing. It shows that his skills and training took over.
“An airlock could happen to anyone, but it would be good to know what caused it.”
Veteran pilot and instructor Dave Perelson, of Port Elizabeth, said the emergency landing was the result of good training and quick thinking.
“I was not there and don’t know what transpired, but I am sure under the circumstances this was the best option.
“In such incidents the pilot would still have full control over the plane but just not enough power.
“It sounds like he [Van Niekerk] did what he is trained to do and that there was clearly no other option,” Perelson said.