Durban - Two experienced pilots, doing what they loved, died on Saturday afternoon when their glider crashed in the mountains in Mpophomeni, outside Howick.
Dave Hall, 65, from Hillcrest, was an electrical engineer and chairman of the Howick gliding club. Milenko Gradinski, 62, was a medical doctor. He lived in Pietermaritzburg, but worked on Ascension Island, in the South Atlantic.
Gradinski’s wife, Vera, spoke briefly about her husband on Sunday before becoming too emotional and handing the phone to a family friend. She said he would come to South Africa when he was on leave. He arrived on May 14, and was to return to the island on June 9.
The family friend, who did not wish to be named, said the doctor had been flying for 30 years. He flew a lot in Howick, when he was home, and in the US.
The couple had three adult sons and had lived in Pietermaritzburg for about 30 years.
Gradinski was on a “check flight” on Saturday, which meant he was under instruction before he could fly again on his own, the friend said. He said the family were shocked by his death.
Hall was “the best person you could have known”, his son Nicholas said. “He was very honest, upfront and serious.”
His father had been flying for more than 10 years. It was “his passion and hobby“.
A friend and fellow club member Tex Impey said that Hall was a “very capable and competent pilot”.
“He was a nice person who will be sorely missed.”
Dirk Smit, chairman of the Soaring Society of South Africa, said the two men usually flew along the ridge in Howick and were competent and experienced. “It was a recreational flight that went wrong.”
At this stage, all indications showed that the cause of the accident was what was termed a CFIT, or controlled flight into terrain. This needed to be determined by an official investigation, however.
Smit said it was believed Gradinski died on impact and that Hall died several minutes later. “It was reported that he was able to phone someone to report the accident before he died.”
The terrain could be reached only on foot or by 4x4, Smit said. The scene had been secured on Sunday by local authorities. All relevant authorities had been notified and the society was awaiting the official aviation accident report.
“Our heartfelt condolences go to the affected families and friends,” Smit said.
ER24 spokesman Russel Meiring said a 4x4 took paramedics to the crash site.
“When they arrived, they discovered that two males had fatal injuries. It is not known what caused the accident, but local authorities were at the scene to begin investigations.”
Zakhele Thwala, deputy director-general of civil aviation at the Department of Transport, said investigators were trying to determine the cause of the crash. There were no witnesses. “It is difficult to investigate unless someone tells us what happened.”
Police spokesman Thulani Zwane said an inquest docket had been opened.