Pretoria - Tragedy struck Wonderboom Airport for the second time in five days on Tuesday when a test pilot plummeted to his death shortly after taking off in a light KR aircraft.
Piet Smit, 51, affectionately known as “Piet Vlieg”, a test pilot and flying instructor, crashed shortly after taking off on runway 11 at between 6.40 and 7.40 on Tuesday morning.
Despite an emergency call, signalling airport control that he was in trouble, Smit could not be helped before the aircraft plunged into a cluster of trees on the premises. He was alone in the aircraft.
“I heard the emergency call over the radio because I was also in the air at the time. I did not realise until later that it was Piet’s voice I heard,” said Walter Gouveia, a friend. He heard Smit say, “I declare an emergency”, seconds before his death.
Smit owned Aviators Paradise Flight Centre in Brits, where he trained pilots and built sling aircraft.
“Flying was his life. For the past 15 years it was his career and every morning he woke up and went out flying,” Gouveia said.
Gouveia became friends with Smit through their mutual love of flying and Smit was Gouveia’s flying instructor.
“He was very experienced and he did not take any chances with safety. That’s why this (accident) does not make sense,” he said.
Smit leaves behind his wife, Juanita, and two teenage children, Janro, 15, and Marinique, 13. He and his family lived behind the hangars at his flying school.
The cause of the accident has yet to be determined, but Gouveia believes there was a fault with the aircraft. It is believed Smit died on impact.
Airport management was unwilling to provide information regarding the accident and referred the matter to the Department of Transport’s aviation section.
Zakhele Thwala of the department said the investigations could take up to a year to complete
Another light aircraft crashed on Friday afternoon, killing 23-year-old flight engineer Jaco Smit from Bultfontein. He was killed when he took a Cessna 188 Agwagon out for a test flight.