'It was quite terrifying'
By Irene Kuppan
Nine-year-old Bridget Gidlow screamed, anticipating the worst, when a commercial plane pilot lost control in wet conditions on Wednesday.
Seated behind her were her mother Kim and little sisters, Emma, 5, and Megan, 7, when British Airways BA6203 skidded off the runway at the Durban International Airport.
For Kim it was a strange and scary coincidence since her husband was recently injured in a helicopter accident in Indonesia. She was certain that they were destined for a similar fate, if not worse.
"I thought it was going to turn over. Everything was happening in slow motion.
"It was quite terrifying," said Kim, a former Durban resident who now lives in Singapore.
Clearly relieved after the ordeal, Bridget said: "My little sister was crying. I just screamed and then when we stopped. I was stunned," she said.
Recalling the terror, Kim said that as they were about to land it seemed as if they were going too fast.
"As we landed, there were pockets of wind and it was raining. The plane started to sway and turned 180 degrees. The wheel went on to the grass and the plane stopped.
"That is when I knew we would be okay, but it was quite traumatic."
She said one of the passengers "panicked and tried to kick out the emergency exit, but the crew calmed everyone down."
The only passenger injured was Zama Hlophe, who made her way to Durban from Johannesburg for her graduation.
Visibly shaken, and complaining of pain in her head and ears, she was taken by paramedics to hospital.
She said strong wind pushed the plane as they landed. "I stopped thinking and started praying.
"The plane went to one side, to the left, and then one of the wheels got stuck at the end of the runway on the grass. I can't remember much after that."
Hlophe said apart from the pain she felt and one passenger who fainted, no one appeared to have been hurt.
Netcare 911 spokesperson Chris Botha said Hlophe was doing well, but was "just in shock and traumatised".
Comair, which operates the BA flight, said the aircraft hit a wet patch on the runway and skidded, causing one of the wheels to go off the runway as the plane was brought to a stop.
Glenda Zvenyika, communications manager for Comair, said: "Initial assessments indicate that there is very minor damage to the aircraft.
"The incident is being investigated and the South African Civil Aviation Authority has been notified."
She said the 87 passengers and six crew on the Boeing 737-300 were debriefed by the flight crew and were offered Lifeline counselling.
Airport Company of South Africa spokesperson, Colin Naidoo, said the runway was closed after the incident while they tried to remove the plane.
"As a result, a number of flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg to Durban were delayed," he said.
The airport returned to normal business on Wednesday afternoon.