Cape Town - “Ejection seat failure, ejection seat failure, tell her I love her very much.” These were the last words of a pilot to the control tower just before his plane crashed during an air show in Bredasdorp.
Nearly three years after a pilot crashed to his death at the Overberg Air Show, an official report has fingered the aircraft owners for poor maintenance and failure to maintain safety standards.
Dave Stock, 46, of Hermanus, was flying solo in an English Electric Lightning MK T5 aircraft during a display at the annual Overberg Air Show in Bredasdorp when the aircraft’s ejection seat failed on November 14, 2009. Scores of spectators saw the aircraft plunge to the ground.
The SA Civil Aviation Authority’s accident report has angered Thunder City, the company that owned the aircraft.
On Thursday, Thunder City labelled the report “seriously flawed” and “scandalous and libellous work”, and said it planned to go to court to have it withdrawn. According to the 136-page report, the day before the accident, on landing at the aerodrome, “a large flame followed by white smoke” had come from the aircraft’s engine and the plane had to be towed to its parking bay. No maintenance was carried out on it.
The next day, while on the apron, the aircraft had started leaking fuel, but had been prepared for flight nonetheless.
“Approximately halfway into the aerobatics display the pilot suddenly experienced an emergency situation… The pilot reported that he was having hydraulic failure,” the report said. The undercarriage failed. “The emergency situation escalated whereby the pilot experienced difficulty in controlling the aircraft. Shortly thereafter the pilot reported that he was going to eject.”
Stock was flying over the sea and tried to steer towards a ground target. Air Traffic Control noticed he was turning towards the crowd and directed Stock, struggling to control the aircraft, towards the ground target.
“The pilot was concerned about the safety of the spectators… The aircraft was descending in a nose-down attitude towards the ground, rolling toward the right, going inverted,” the report said.
Stock tried to eject, but according to a transcript included in the report, his last words at 10.22.04am were: “Ejection seat failure, ejection seat failure, tell her I love her very much.”
“A ball of dark smoke was emanating from the the accident site… The evidence shows the aircraft exploded during the impact sequence,” the report said. It was later found flames had come from the fuselage while the aircraft was in flight.
The report said:
* “Thunder City’s level of compliance was always and remained a challenge for the [SA Civil Aviation Authority].
“Quality and safety systems were not implemented… Thunder City promised in their action plans to correct the situation, but did nothing.”
* When it came to the two types of aircraft Thunder City used at the air show, the company’s ability “to properly manage the operations of aircraft and pilot flying were inadequate”.
* The accountable manager, management personnel, thecertifying inspectors and others, equally responsible for ensuring the aircraft were maintained in accordance with the relevant regulations, “were displaying poor management and workmanship qualities”.
“They all neglected to identify, analyse and prevent unsafe conditions in the organisation.”
Asked to respond on Thursday, Thunder City issued a statement saying it had not been aware that the authority’s report had been issued. It had not had time to study it.
Also, none of its senior members had been interviewed, nor had statements been taken, Thunder City said.
“Our initial findings, after a cursory read, leave us in no doubt that this report is seriously flawed and smacks of a witch-hunt…
“Even at a superficial level, while the report appears to be thorough, we have found blatant falsehoods, errors, illogical conclusions, clear contradictions as well as glaring omissions.”
Thunder City planned to conduct an independent investigation into the crash using qualified experts.
This was expected to take about three months.
Stock’s son, Gareth Stock, 23, said he had seen the report for the first time a few weeks ago.
“It was just good to see and know what happened to [my father] and why… It was a little bit frustrating that it took so long,” he said.
Stock said investigators from the SA Civil Aviation Authority had initially told his family that they would probably be given answers about the crash in about six months, but it had taken about two and a half years.
He had been told the report was “100 percent” accurate.
The recording of his father’s last words in the aircraft had been played to his family. He was not sure who his father had been referring to when uttering his last words, “… tell her I love her very much”.
“It’s difficult to pinpoint who it was about,” Stock said.
His father was engaged and had a former wife of 14 years. “He had so little time, he probably meant he loves all his family and friends,” Stock said.
He said Thunder City had not been in contact with him.