File photo

Cape Town - It was a short flight over the Breede River, a flight the pilot looked forward to during his lengthy spells working overseas as a commercial diver.

But when Joost Bonekampset off in a single-engine S6 Taildragger on Saturday, it turned out to be his last.

It is still unclear what caused the 45-year-old to crash the two-seater aircraft near an airstrip beside the Breede River between Cape Infanta and Swellendam.

But for friends of the Worcester man, one thing is certain, his sudden death is a tragedy.

“He was well-loved, a long-running member of our club,” said Marius Heyneman, the chairman of the Swellengrebel Flying Club. “It’s extremely sad.”

It was a windy day when Bonekamp set off from the Swellendam airfield. The plan was to drop off his friend on a dirt strip at Infanta and then go back home to his wife.

The landing was reportedly challenging, but the pilot managed to land safely at his destination. However, he ran into trouble on his return trip.

Eyewitness reports online describe how the pilot was flying too low and taking chances until his “luck eventually ran out”.

“His stunts sadly included so much low flying that a witness said he had to lower his fishing rod on a boat on the river to let him safely continue his shoot ups,” wrote iGunship on the FlyAfrica forums.

But Heyneman said it appeared that Bonekamp had crashed soon after take-off.

“Look, this is pure speculation, but it was a choppy day out there and chances are he got caught in a downwind on his way up. I’m sure it was not a mechanical failure.”

Lourens Enslin, the pilot’s friend and co-owner of the crashed plane, said his friend had probably been unsettled by the rough landing in Infanta.

“When taking off, the wind was gusting and after take-off he turned downwind towards the river.

The aircraft stalled and spun in. He died instantly.

“The aircraft is damaged beyond repair.”

Based on other reports, the National Sea Rescue Institute also concluded that it appeared that the pilot had crashed just moments after take-off.

The institute, Western Cape EMS and municipal fire and rescue services learnt of the crash at around 1.15pm.

Sea Rescue Institute spokesman Craig Lambinon said rescuers pulled Bonekamp’s body from the crumpled wreckage. The Civil Aviation Authority has already been at the accident site to start its investigation.

Enslin said Bonekamp left a wife and daughter.

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Cape Argus