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Telling the

An engine failure leads

to a barely controlled
forced landing,
leaving a young pilot
lucky to escape with
serious injuries

By David lentle

O n June 16 last year I was up

early to avoid the Comrade’s race traffic
en route to Virginia Airport. It was a lovely
crystal clear morning with not a cloud in
sight, ideal to test fly the Dragonfly canard.
Arriving at the airport we pulled
the Dragonfly out of the hangar. After a
thorough pre-flight I launched into the
smooth air. I headed to La-Merci and
did a few touch and goes on their grass
runway. Feeling comfortable with the
aircraft I returned back to Virginia and
was pleased at my greaser of a landing.
We topped up the fuel tanks and
packed crisps and cold drinks for my
flight to East London. I climbed into the
cockpit and waved to my helpers, not
knowing that it may be my last flight.
After another careful engine run-up, I
smoothly opened the throttle. In no time
the tail was up and I was on my way.
I routed to Cato Ridge and then south
towards Hiberdene, staying clear of
Durban airspace as I wasn’t transponder

The cockpit filled

with thick white

smoke and steam.

equipped. The route was scenic and
once clear of the TMA, I climbed into the
flight levels. Being a nice clear morning
I had a lovely view of the Drakensberg.
I couldn’t think of a better place to be.
On passing 5000ft I changed frequency
to Durban Approach to let them know
my whereabouts and intentions.
I was about to press the microphone
button when I was stunned by a loud
noise and vibration. I cursed sharply
when I saw the propeller windmilling but
remained calm, thanks to my many out-
landings in gliders. I had done this often
before and this one was going to be just
fine. But then the cockpit filled with thick
white smoke and steam. The heat was
soon intense and oil began to cover the
canopy - greatly reducing my forward


Left: SAP officers inspect

the Dragonfly’s cockpit.

Right top: Impact caused

massive cockpit damage.

Right centre: Dragonfly’s

Subaru powerplant.

Right bottom:
Footwell damage.

visibility. This was not like flying a glider broken body out of the mangled aircraft.
anymore. It was a bad recipe for any pilot The SAA flight diverted from their
and I only had myself to deal with it. course, found me, then circled overhead.
I transmitted a Mayday to Durban They radioed my position to the rescue
approach as I started a descending turn team, a police helicopter. Later a 911
to the left, searching for a possible place helicopter arrived from Pietermaritzberg
to put it down. I had to turn left as it was where they were on Comrades duty. I We all face risks every time we
the only side of the cockpit I could see have always wanted a helicopter ride fly. So please just take a minute
out of. During my decent I was talking to but don’t remember much of this one. to think on the following:
• How safe is your flying?
both ATC and an SAA flight inbound to The rescue team took me to St
• Think about your safety and
Durban from Port Elizabeth. The SAA crew Augustine’s hospital where I spent a long
everyone who flies with you. An
asked me what my radial and DME was time in the intensive care unit and a further engine failure gives no warning.
from East London. I could only reply that seven weeks in the ward. On leaving • How is your aircraft’s weight vs.
I was in an experimental aircraft with just hospital I spent the next six months flat performance? - especially if you are
a hand-held GPS and a map. I gave my on my back with 24 hour parental care. flying light singles and twins.
distance from East London and roughly My injuries were extensive. Starting • Remember the performance of a light
how far inland I reckoned I was. With my from the bottom; I had two shattered twin on one engine is very poor. Some
limited view out the side of the cockpit I ankles. My left tibia and fibula protruded cannot maintain height on one engine
could only give small details of what I saw from the side of my leg and into the dirt. at sea level. Remember the famous
saying: The remaining engine is there to
on the ground to describe my position. I cracked my pelvis, broke my coccyx,
take you to the scene of the crash.
I had about five minutes to think cracked a couple of ribs and had second
• How is your flight time and
about my impact as, not being able degree burns over my whole back, duty - how tired are you?
to see forward, I expected it would (caused by a fraction of a second’s impact • How will your aircraft fly out
be ugly. My eyes started burning as friction.) My right elbow was shattered (it of a hot and high field?
the smoke in the cockpit was intense. now works on a metal frame), I broke my • Not having flaps on the Dragonfly
Sweat was pouring off me and I couldn’t left wrist and severed its tendons, which was a huge problem. Flaps allow one
endure the heat coming into the cabin. stopped my fingers closing. My jaw was to control the approach - especially
I was desperate for ventilation, but the displaced to the side and flattened and if over or undershooting and slow
thought of ejecting the canopy and my nose needed to be pulled out of my the aircraft for a safe landing.
• An aircraft which has flaps is a much safer
getting a faceful of hot oil stopped me. I face. Furthermore, I had to have a blood
aircraft - when in a sticky situation you can
was battling to see my instruments and clot removed from my lower back, caused
at least reduce the touch down speed.
work out how much time I had left. from splintered bone from my spine
Then something flashed past on my piercing my nerves. This clot has cost Considering my situation I had selected a
left, making me realise my time in the sky me control of my bowel and bladder. good field but only had one chance at making
was nearly up. I pressed the PPT and said One year later, I am still in it in. Not being able to see out the front
“Guys, I think this is going to hurt”. I took a wheelchair, having yet more of the aircraft and having the extra knots
one last breath. I don’t know if I closed my bone grafts to my legs. behind me, I had the inertia which carried
eyes. Not having any flaps to slow down, Everyone around has been wonderfully me past the field and into a bank. Perhaps
I impacted the side of a hill at around 120 helpful and supportive. It really is nice In retrospect, I should have side-slipped
some of the speed off and been able to see
mph. I don’t know how my body survived. to know that there are people out there
more from out the side of the canopy.
The composite structure folded, slamming who care. I would like thank the 911
my face into the instrument panel and rescue team, police chopper guys ,
my legs crunched under the dash. the doctor and farmer at the scene,
I was conscious throughout the whole the SAA pilots, ATC, the surgeons and
episode. I am known for living life on the medical staff at St Augustine’s Hospital,
edge but this caught me by surprise. I Durban, and all my friends and family.
wouldn’t want anyone to endure the pain I
have had to deal with. A local doctor was Flying is fun and that’s why we do
not far away and assisted putting up a drip it, so enjoy it. Please just keep safety in
and getting me out the wreckage. I had mind. I’m longing to fly again and can’t
to explain to him how to extract my very wait to speak to you all over the airways.