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Airlink flight SA 8911

Airlink flight 8911, a British Aerospace Jetstream 41 (J41) aircraft, crash-landed at 0755am on the 24th September 2009 into Merebank Secondary School's sport field (close to Durban International Airport). The aircraft was on a positioning flight from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. The pilot steered the aircraft onto a vacant lot, narrowly missing houses, after which it slid through the concrete wall of a school. A street cleaner had his legs broken when hit by the aircraft, which then slid over him. The 29 seater aircraft had 3 crew on board (2 pilots and a flight attendant) and no passengers.

rescue workers at the downed Airlink flight 8911

What happened?

The plane (registration ZS-NRM) was on its way from Johannesburg to Pietermaritzburg on the 23rd September, when it was diverted to Durban because of bad weather (the passengers were bussed to Pietermaritzburg). The next day the J41 aircraft took off from Durban to reposition in Pietermaritzburg. The number 2 engine failed on rotation and a power reduction occurred on the number 1 engine as the plane climbed to about 450 feet above sea level. An emergency call was made, with the crew reporting smoke from the back of the plane and loss of power.

The plane ditched some 400m from Durban International Airport, hitting a concrete palisade fence and columns and came to rest on the sports field of Merebank High school in Durban's Bluff area. As the 24th September is a public holiday in South Africa (Heritage Day), there were few people on the ground. The fuselage broke up in 2 main parts at about the wing spars and the wings were ripped off the plane. The crew of a South African Express plane lining up on runway 06 behind the Airlink, had tried to warn the Airlink crew of smoke from the engines, but an ATC transmission interrupted their warning and the Airlink crew probably did not hear their warning.

aerial view of the Airlink flight 8911 crashed aircraft near Durban

One fatality, 3 injuries

The crew (Captain Allister Freeman, Co-pilot Sonja Bierman and flight attendant Rudele Oosthuizen) were trapped in the cockpit for at least 2 hours before the wreckage could be cleared. At 11am the captain, flight attendant and co-pilot were taken by helicopter to St Augustine hospital. Flight Attendant Rodelle Oosthuizen sustained facial injuries and a fractured spine. Captain Alistair Freeman sustained multiple injuries including facial fractures, 14 broken ribs, a crushed ankle and a perforated lung (on the evening of Friday the 25th September he underwent a 10-hour operation to attend to injuries to his left leg and facial fractures). First Officer Sonja Bierman broke both her ankles and a hand and sustained fractures in the pelvic area and chest.

Abraham Mthethwa in hospital

A municipal worker, Abraham Mthethwa, who was sweeping the road (and deserves a medal for working on Heritage Day) was injured and taken by ambulance to St Augustine's Hospital. Deputy Mayor Logie Naidoo visited him soon after the accident, and promised to get word of the accident to his 2 wives, McGasa and McNgcobo and his children, Macebi, 16, and Mdu, 12 (who do not have a telephone). The 48-year-old Mthethwa hit him from behind breaking both his legs and leaving him with serious head injuries. Speaking from his hospital bed, Mthethwa said: "A colleague and I were sweeping the road near the school. I heard the plane but I thought it was going past. I'm in a lot of pain at the moment but I am going for an operation tomorrow. I can't remember much but I am so happy to be alive.

Derrick Banks, an ambulance spokesman, said paramedics were surprised to find Mr Mthethwa was still conscious when they arrived at the scene: "He had serious injuries and advanced life support intervention was required to stabilise him before he was transported to St Augustine's Hospital. He suffered multiple fractures to his limbs and pelvis.' Mr Mthethwa today remained in intensive care at Durban's St Augustine's Hospital, where he was heavily sedated and receiving treatment for multiple injuries."

Captain Freeman dies

Around 1am on the 7th October, Captain Allister Freeman passed away in the Netcare St Augustine's Hospital, with his family present.

10 October update on recovery

On Saturday the 10th of October Rodelle Oosthuizen, who is recovering at St Augustine's Hospital, walked for the first time since the accident (she took 3 steps). The co-pilot Sonja Bierman, who is in a high care facility in Johannesburg, had a hand and ankle operation on the 10th October which "went well". The pilot, Alistair Freeman, is still in critical condition. Abraham Mthethwa, a Durban Solid Waste street cleaner, is still in hospital.

Netcare 911 helicopter taken the injured Airlink crew to hospitals

Repairs

Airlink had hired local contractors to repair the crash site and builders had repaired the damaged school wall on the 8th October 2009. 

rescue workers carry a survivor out of the Airlink wreckage

What is a a positioning flight?

A positioning flight is a non commercial flight (without passengers or cargo) performed in order to get to a departure airport to operate a commercial flight.

a survivor is carried out of the wreckage of Airlink flight 8911

Statements

"We can least afford to have passenger airlines jeopardising the lives of our people. Due to the risk associated with air travel, its safety must be beyond reproach." Kwazulu-Natal transport MEC Willies Mchunu

"We want to wish those injured in the plane crash in merebank this morning a speedy recovery. We acknowledge that this is a difficult time for those injured and their families and our thoughts and prayers are with them." Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele

Eyewitnesses

"I just heard a loud noise. I thought the plane was falling straight from the sky onto us, as it was so close. Then I saw it moving and bumping on the vacant plot. I saw a guy being hit, and the plane just took him along as it dragged along the ground. I am suffering from the shock of it still. It keeps playing in my mind all night." Logie Naidoo, who was the only person in the street at the time.

"I was in my garden at the time watching the municipal workers sweeping the road. All of a sudden, I saw a plane flying just above the road and coming right at me. I just froze in shock. I have to applaud the pilot. I don't know whether he saw me standing there, but the plane just changed direction and hit the fence. I ran to the plane screaming. I saw the pilot, he was just staring into space. Then when I saw smoke, I got scared and began screaming for help. So many more people could have been hurt. He saved my daughter, my house and me from being crushed under the plane. It hurt me when I saw him in the stretcher afterwards." Liz Naidoo, whose home is about 100m from the crash site.

Airlink flight 8911 which crashed on its way out of Durban to Pietermaritzburg

Airlink statement at 11h00 on 24 Sep

"MEDIA RELEASE

ACCIDENT - AIRLINK FLIGHT

Airlink Media bulletin
Issued 24 September 2009

JOHANNESBURG - Airlink regrets to confirm that its technical positioning flight, SA 8911 positioning from Durban to Pietermaritzburg was involved in an accident at 08h00 today .

The aircraft a Jetstream 41 ( 29 seats ) departed from Durban International Airport and shortly after take-off declared an emergency, crew reported engine loss and smoke from the rear of the aircraft. The aircraft ditched approx 400 m off the Airport in the fields of a school on the Bluff and broke into 3 pieces.

At this time, search and rescue operations are in the process and we have confirmed information that there are 3 survivors. Airlink staff have been sent to the accident scene, and will do everything possible to assist the emergency services and local authorities.

There were no passengers only 3 crew onboard the aircraft. Their names and conditions are not known at the present time. We are receiving emergency assistance from the Police, Fire and Rescue etc.

Airlink will release further information as soon as it becomes available.

Journalists should call 082 854 1988 for further information.

Issued for Airlink
KARIN MURRAY"

Airlink statement at 11h15 on 24 Sep

MEDIA RELEASE

ACCIDENT - AIRLINK FLIGHT Update #1 at 11h15

Airlink Media bulletin
Issued 24 September 2009

JOHANNESBURG - Airlink regrets to confirm that its technical positioning flight (ferry flight), SA 8911 positioning from Durban to Pietermaritzburg was involved in an accident at 08h00 today . There were no passengers on board.

The aircraft a Jetstream 41 ( 29 seats ) departed from Durban International Airport and shortly after take-off declared an emergency, crew reported engine loss and smoke from the rear of the aircraft. The aircraft ditched approx 400 m off the Airport in the fields of the Merebank high school on the Bluff and broke into 3 pieces on impact.

We have confirmation that there are no fatalities. The two Pilots are both stable but critically injured. The Flight attendant is seriously injured but also stable. The Captain was airlifted to St Augustine hospital at 11h00.All crew members have been hospitalized in nearby hospitals. We understand that a worker on the ground was slightly injured and was treated at the scene and admitted to hospital for surveillance. Airlink staff are on the scene.

Arrangements have been made for the immediate family of the injured crew to travel to Durban.

Airlink will release further information as soon as it becomes available.

Journalists should call 082 854 1988 for further information.

Issued for Airlink
KARIN MURRAY

Airlink statement at 16h30 on 24 Sep

MEDIA RELEASE

ACCIDENT - AIRLINK FLIGHT Update #2 at 16h30

Airlink Media bulletin
Issued 24 September 2009

JOHANNESBURG - Airlink regrets to confirm that its positioning flight (ferry flight), SA 8911 from Durban to Pietermaritzburg was involved in an accident at 08h00 today . There were no passengers on board.

We have confirmation that there are no fatalities. Our three crew members and a bystander on the ground are in hospital in Durban receiving medical attention for their injuries.

Flight Attendant Rodelle Oosthuizen sustained facial injuries and a fractured spine. She is stable.

Capt Alistair Freeman sustained multiple injuries including facial fractures, broken ribs and ankle and a suspected punctured lung. He is currently critical and on ventilation.

First Officer Sonja Bierman also sustained multiple injuries. She is in a stable condition. She has broken both her ankles and a hand and has sustained fractures in the pelvic area and chest.

The member of the public bystander, whose name is not yet known, is understood to be receiving medical attention in the intensive care unit.

Airlink executive management is at the hospital to ensure that the best medical care is being rendered and to support the immediate family of the bystander and its injured personnel.

The aircraft a Jetstream 41 (29 seats) departed from Durban International Airport and shortly after take-off declared an emergency. It had been reported on the active Air Traffic Control radio channel by other pilots and air traffic controllers that smoke was seen coming from one of the engines. The crew then reported that they had encountered engine loss of power and they declared an emergency.

The aircraft ditched approx 400 m off the Airport. It appears that the crew was executing a forced emergency landing. They had selected a small open field in the built up area which was clearly not adequate for this purpose. The aircraft impacted a concrete palisade fence and columns and came to rest on the sports field of Merebank High school in the Bluff area.

It is remarkable that the skill and expertise of the pilots was such that in this emergency they were able to pilot their aircraft to avoid contact with members of the public and buildings and that a major catastrophe was averted. Pilots are specifically trained for engine “power loss on takeoff” emergencies, and clearly this training has played its role. As luck would have it, due to it being a public holiday, there were no learners at school at the time.

The Jetstream 41is a reliable aircraft with an impeccable safety record, built by British Aerospace in Prestwick Scotland. There are over 100 examples of the type built, of which 72 remain in active service in 21 airlines around the world. Airlink operates 15 of these aircraft. The crashed aircraft had all maintenance items current, with no known defects. While having been in service with Airlink since 1995, the aircraft was nearing its midlife stage with more than 30,000 hours of service remaining.

SA Airlink will work closely with the South African Civil Aviation authority in its investigation of the accident. The digital flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder have been retrieved and will be analyzed. The original equipment manufacturer BAE SYSTEMS PLC has dispatched a team of technical experts to assist with the investigation should they be required by the SACAA.

Airlink has taken care of the travel and hotel accommodation arrangements for immediate family to be at the side of their loved ones.

SA Airlink advises that its scheduled air services have not been disrupted . Operations and continue as normal.

Journalists should call 082 854 1988 for further information.

Issued for Airlink
KARIN MURRAY

Airlink statement at 08h45 on 25 Sep

MEDIA RELEASE

ACCIDENT - AIRLINK FLIGHT Update #3 at 08h45

Airlink Media bulletin
Issued 25 September 2009

JOHANNESBURG - Airlink would like to provide an update on the status of its positioning flight (ferry flight), SA 8911 from Durban to Pietermaritzburg which was involved in an accident at 08h00 on Thursday 24 September 2009 . There were no passengers on board and no fatalities.

Our three crew members and a bystander on the ground are in hospital in Durban receiving medical attention for their injuries.

 

1.Flight Attendant Rodelle Oosthuizen sustained facial and back injuries. She is stable and will be operated on today.

2.Capt Alistair Freeman sustained multiple injuries including facial fractures, broken ribs and ankle and a suspected punctured lung. He is still critical but stable and will be operated on his legs today, once the facial swelling has reduced his facial fractures will be attended to.

3.First Officer Sonja Bierman also sustained multiple injuries. She is in a stable condition and currently under sedation. She has broken both her ankles and a hand and has sustained fractures in the pelvic area and chest. Her ankles were operated on successfully yesterday.

4.The member of the public, Mr Abraham Mthethwa sustained leg fractures and will be operated on today, He is critical but in a stable condition.

5.Airlink can confirm that the wreckage of the aircraft has been released to Airlink’s on-site technical team, who are working closely with the South African Civil Aviation authority in its investigation of the accident. The digital flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder have been retrieved and will be analyzed. The original equipment manufacturer BAE SYSTEMS PLC has dispatched a team of technical experts to assist with the investigation should they be required by the SACAA.

Airlink executive management is at the hospital to support the Family and loved ones and the injured personnel. Airlink can also confirm that trauma counseling for the Family members has been arranged for today.

The aircraft a Jetstream 41 (29 seats) departed from Durban International Airport and shortly after take-off declared an emergency. It had been reported on the active Air Traffic Control radio channel by other pilots and air traffic controllers that smoke was seen coming from one of the engines. The crew then reported that they had encountered engine loss of power and they declared an emergency.

The aircraft ditched approx 400 m off the Airport. It appears that the crew was executing a forced emergency landing. They had selected a small open field in the built up area which was clearly not adequate for this purpose. The aircraft impacted a concrete palisade fence and columns and came to rest on the sports field of Merebank High school in the Bluff area.

It is remarkable that the skill and expertise of the pilots was such that in this emergency they were able to pilot their aircraft to avoid contact with members of the public and buildings and that a major catastrophe was averted. Pilots are specifically trained for engine “power loss on takeoff” emergencies, and clearly this training has played its role. As luck would have it, due to it being a public holiday, there were no learners at school at the time.

Airlink has taken care of the travel and hotel accommodation arrangements for immediate family to be at the side of their loved ones.

Airlink advises that its scheduled air services have not been disrupted . Operations continue as normal.

Journalists should call 082 854 1988 for further information.

Issued for Airlink
KARIN MURRAY

tailfin of the crashed Airlink flight 8911

Jetstream 41 aircraft

The Jetstream 41 aircraft was built in Prestwick Scotland by British Aerospace, and is one of 72 in active service in 21 airlines around the world (15 of which are operated by Airlink). The crashed plane had no known defects and all maintenance items were current. Having been in service with Airlink since 1995, the plane was nearing its midlife stage with more than 30,000 hours of service remaining.

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