Johannesburg - In his 30 years at the Magalies Gliding Club, safety officer David Mortimer had never witnessed such an accident.
It was the second fatal recreational aviation crash this weekend.
At 12.15pm on Sunday, Mortimer was preparing to go up when he saw a tug plane pulling a glider into the air. When it was 200 feet up, the glider suddenly snapped free of the tug plane. It glided safely to earth, while the tug plummeted and was ripped apart as it hit the ground.
Its pilot, a dedicated member of the club, was killed.
Mortimer spent the afternoon helping the Civil Aviation Authority conduct its investigation.
Around 4.30pm, the body was removed from the scene.
Mortimer said an accident like this one was the first in the 40-year history of the club.
“This is a real tragedy and comes out of the blue. Some facts will come out of it, but at this stage, it’s all speculation (about what happened),” he said.
Netcare 911 spokeswoman Santi Steinmann said their paramedics and other services found one person dead after the light aircraft crash.
“Exact detail as to the cause of the accident and preceding events will remain the subject of a Civil Aviation Authority (investigation).”
According to Mortimer, the plane’s pilot – whose name was being withheld until his next of kin had been informed – was a long-time club member and a dedicated flyer.
He described him as middle-aged, living in Joburg, and he came to the club to fly at weekends.
Mortimer said the club was a close-knit environment, with everyone good friends.
“This has been a great shock to everybody.”
On Saturday morning, there was another recreational aviation death.
The chairman of the Heidelberg Aviation Association, Henk Schouten, 56, was killed in a crash involving a light aircraft at the Heidelberg airfield.
Walter Doubel, the association’s safety officer, said Schouten was a well-respected pilot and was always concerned with safety when flying.
He said Schouten was meticulous about his aircraft and the Heidelberg aerodrome.
Schouten was alone in the aircraft when it crashed.
Doubel said the Civil Aviation Authority would investigate.