Pretoria - The pilot of the light aircraft that crashed at Lanseria on Monday morning killing all three people on board may have been aiming to hit a huge gravel heap to avoid the even worse disaster of flying into an airport building.
The aircraft burst into flames on impact.
“There’s speculation that it was a controlled flight into terrain crash,” said Claudette Vianello, spokeswoman for Lanseria International Airport, north-west of Joburg.
The Execujet building is close to the crash site.
The plane had taken off from Rand Airport in Germiston, east of Joburg, and planned to land at about 7am at Lanseria.
The aircraft came down in bad weather – rain and mist – on a cleared section of ground and completely missed the adjacent runway.
“He crashed into the sand embankment,” said Vianello.
She said the pilot had been in contact with the tower for the landing and there was no indication of engine failure.
The aircraft was “completely off the runway. We would call it off-airport. That’s why it hasn’t affected our operations”.
Vianello said there was speculation that the weather was a factor.
In November, Lanseria opened a new runway parallel to the existing one; the original runway is no longer in use and is being ripped up. The heap of gravel into which the plane crashed – about the size of a house – was from the earthworks.
The speculation is that poor visibility due to the inclement weather caused the pilot to miss the runway and, realising the aircraft was in danger of hitting the Execujet building, he aimed for the gravel heap.
Hours later emergency services and air crash investigators were still on the scene, using ropes attached to a fire truck to scramble down the steep embankment to the crumpled wreckage below.
In the background, other flights took off and landed as normal.
The names of the victims have not yet been released.
According to live-flight tracking websites, the craft was a Beechcraft C90GTx King Air, which burnt out on crash landing.
“We have cordoned off the area and an investigation will start immediately. We cannot confirm at this stage whether the crash was due to bad weather or not,” said Gavin Sayce, chief executive of the airport.
Maritza van der Merwe witnessed the crash as she was driving to work at about 6.50am.
“As soon as it hit the ground, it exploded,” Van der Merwe said.
She said the aircraft had been flying low and that it appeared to have clipped a building before it smashed nose-first into the grass embankment near the runway.
“It looked like it just missed the approach to the runway,” Van der Merwe said.
Lanseria is a privately owned, internationally accredited airport which has no links to the Airports Company SA.