By Karen Breytenbach
Former Springbok and Western Province flank Rob Louw escaped serious injury when a small plane in which he was a passenger overshot an Mpumalanga game reserve runway, lost a wheel and skidded on its belly into the bush.
The brakes apparently failed and the aircraft, a Cessna, was "written off", Louw said.
He and three friends from Nelspruit were being flown in the Cessna to the Chitwa Chitwa Lodge, in the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve near the Kruger National Park, where they were to watch the match between the Springboks and Wallabies.
As the pilot was coming in to land, strong winds buffeted the plane. When the plane touched down on the reserve's small runway it became clear to Louw, who was sitting in front with the pilot, that it would be impossible to bring the aircraft to a halt.
Branches clipped the plane's wings, while there was chaos in the cockpit and crazed swearing by all on board.
The plane swerved, one of its wheels broke off and the Cessna ploughed into the bushes on its belly.
"A few smaller trees broke our speed," Louw said.
"If they hadn't we might have collided head-on with two very big, very solid trees (nine metres on) and that would have been the end of us.
"It was strange... I had a premonition something would go wrong. I had repeated the scene in my mind so often during the flight that I just bolted out of the plane when it finally came to a halt. I was also scared because the petrol began gushing out of one of the wings."
Louw was the first to jump clear and, in "sheer adrenaline", ran down the runway to look for help, not even thinking of the risk of encountering wild animals.
Neither he nor his friends, Dave Edmundson, Greg Cruse and Luigi Comaneci, had serious injuries, although they all had a whiplash-induced ache in the neck the following day.
The pilot, James, whose surname could not be established, bruised a leg, but had no other injuries. The friends and the pilot had no further contact after the accident.
"I thought we were going to die, but it only really hit me the following day when I went to see the wreck," Louw said. "An insurance company came to look at it and said (the plane) was a write-off. I downed a bottle of wine while watching the rugby, just celebrating being alive."
After a weekend of golf at the Sabi Sands, the father-of-four returned on Monday to his home in Durbanville, Cape Town.