Klerksdorp plane crash Photo by Riaan Roux/SAPA

“Thank you for many years of stunning displays and all you did for aviation in South Africa. You will be missed.”

That was the message posted by avid flyer and blogger Garth Calitz on his website in tribute to pilot Gianfranco Cicogna-Mozzoni, who died in a fiery crash watched in horror by thousands at the Klerksdorp air show on Saturday. Nobody was injured on the ground.

The last picture he posted on his Facebook wall was of four planes with the message “Missed you at Rand (airport) this weekend”.

Investigators are not sure what caused the crash.

YouTube shows two planes flying in formation at the air show, completing two huge 360-degree loops before one of the planes veers out of formation while coming down from the loop, then plunges to the ground, exploding in a ball of flames.

“He ends up out of sequence in the formo. Try to get back to close formation. He ends up in the slipstream of the number 1 and a flameout is the end result,” commented a member of an online aviation forum.

“There is obviously a lot of pressure on the pilot to get back into formation in front of a large crowd of spectators in a high-speed aircraft during a low-level loop manoeuvre. That is a tough task for anyone no matter how experienced they are,” said another.

The forum was full of condolences to the pilot’s family.

Cicogna-Mozzoni’s colourful history is documented on many websites.

According to his own biography on Air Show SA, he started flying 26 years ago and flew extensively in both Africa and Europe.

The Financial Mail referred to him as Italy’s Rockefeller, a man from an Italian noble family who inherited his title of count at the age of 10 when his father died. His late grandfather, Giuseppe Volpi di Missurate, was Italian minister of finance between 1910 and 1940, and the last Doge of Venice and governor of North Africa.

Cicogna-Mozzoni could speak five languages. He studied in the UK and obtained a BSc (economics) with honours before moving to Bocconi University in Milan, where he studied international economics. He was selected as one of three applicants out of 10 000 by Chemical Bank, New York, for a specialist training programme.

He was captivated by Africa after spending holidays in Kenya scuba diving. He started an export firm in Kenya to supply European customers with fruit and vegetables out of season, then saw a similar opportunity in SA.

His career spanned international banking, marketing and farming.

The Financial Mail reported that in 1997, Cicogna-Mozzoni wanted his company, Ursus Telecom, to become an alternative to Telkom and planned legal action when Telkom called his company “illegal pirates”. A price war across several countries followed between Ursus and Telkom.

 

In 2004, The Guardian reported that Cicogna-Mozzoni was allegedly tied to a plot to stage a coup in Equatorial Guinea as a potential investor.

Last month, M-Net’s Carte Blanche ran a show on two boys who were almost robbed of their dream of flying after they arranged flying lessons with a man who was not licensed as a pilot or registered as a flight school; Cicogna-Mozzoni stepped in to give the boys lessons.

[email protected]

The Star