Durban - Three men, two from Durban, were flying a used aircraft that was bought only the day before when it crashed on Saturday, a representative of the South African manufacturer said on Sunday.
Craig Smit, 39, Kim Gibbings, 53, and Hennie Coetzee, 35, all died in the crash. They were travelling from Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria to Durban’s Virginia Airport when the Ravin 500 aircraft crashed in Camperdown.
They were apparently doing a fly-past at Emoyeni Airfield at the time. Gibbings’ brother Kevin posted on Facebook that “a wing had come off” the aircraft. The 4-seater Ravin 500, according to Pretoria-based Ravin Aircraft Manufacturers, is an all-composite kit aircraft designed for amateur construction. It is based on the concept of the Piper Comanche.
Company representative Jan Troskie said he had watched the aircraft leave Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria on Saturday with the two Durban-based occupants and an instructor from the airport.
“The plane had about 200 hours flying time on it. The owner bought it new from us three years ago and sold it to these guys on Friday.”
He said the new owners had flown the aircraft on Friday before heading for Virginia Airport the next day. He understood they would have stopped for fuel en route.
Wreckage of the light aircraft was scattered across the crash site and a helicopter was used to locate and collect it.
A large part of the engine had just been recovered when the Daily News arrived.
Netcare 911 spokesman Santi Steinmann said paramedics were called to the scene at about 3.30pm on Saturday.
“There were three occupants. Two were burnt beyond recognition but the third was recognised as a male occupant,” she said.
The families of the victims shared their grief on social media. Kevin Gibbings posted on Facebook: “Hamba gashle my brother there were some good times got to say that, cheers bru.”
Gibbings’ daughter, Shannon Skye Gibbings, posted: “Today god has gained an angel. I know you left doing what you loved just know I will always love and cherish you in my heart…”
Smit, who is from Durban, was to have celebrated his one-year wedding anniversary yesterday. His wife, Jean Smit, posted on his Facebook page on Sunday: “Viva so uma vez - You live but only once” The code you lived by. 1 year today we finally tied the knot and legalised an already formidable bond. Love you beyond this life.”
Coetzee - who leaves behind a wife and two daughters - was a director of both Blue Chip Flight School and Fly Jetstream Aviation in Pretoria. Henk Kraaij, a fellow director of both companies who had worked with Coetzee for the past nine years, said Smit and Gibbings had asked if Coetzee could assist with the flight to Durban as he had experience with Ravin 500s. He was to fly back on a commercial airline from King Shaka International Airport that day.
“I was alerted by guys in the industry that a plane had gone down. I called (Smit’s wife), who said she was waiting for him at the airport but he hadn’t arrived. I called all the aviation guys and then got confirmation that Hennie was on the plane.”
Troskie said it could not have been a structural problem that caused the crash, but potentially speeding or “heavy G- loading” whereby the plane is lifted too fast.
“We’ve never had any other problems with these planes. They’ve been flown by (air-show pilot) Scully Levin in air shows, upside down.”
However, aviation inspectors on site said it was too early to even speculate what had caused the crash.
Police spokesman Colonel Jay Naicker said the cause of the crash was unknown.
The acting head of investigations at the Department of Transport, Albert Morudi, said he could not comment as the investigation, which is being jointly run by the department and the Civil Aviation Authority, was ongoing.
A total of 24 Ravin 500 aircraft have been built since 2002, according to Jan Troskie, involved in aviation for 34 years.
His company, Ravin Aircraft Manufacturers is next to Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria.
He said 20 were in SA, two in the US, one each in Canada and Australia.
The Ravin 500 is a South African design made of composite material - no metal - using the latest technology, he said. “This is an economical and very fast aeroplane. You need a lot of experience to fly it.”
He said there had only been one other Ravin 500 crash, in the US about seven years ago. The engine had caught alight and the crash was ruled as pilot error.