Pilot’s lucky escape
Tuesday, 16th August, 2011
It began as a solo flying trip to an air show and ended with a wrecked light plane and the 56-year-old pilot in hospital - but counting his lucky stars.
Police and the station property manager who rendered first aid to the man following his crash landing near Wilcannia on Sunday spoke yesterday of the pilot’s good fortune to escape with only a broken arm and cuts.
The South Australian was travelling from Hawker, 105km northeast of Pt Augusta, to Bourke in his Avocet aircraft when he struck engine trouble and had to land.
“He just had an engine malfunction ... he was on his way to Bourke and diverted to Wilcannia but obviously didn’t make it and tried to put it down here,” said Mick Connolly, who manages Comarto Station, 60km west of Wilcannia.
Mr Connolly, who was mustering sheep when the pilot sighted the property’s dirt airstrip about 1.30pm and steered his stricken aircraft for it, didn’t see the crash.
He discovered the accident about 20 minutes later when he noticed the wreckage at the end of the airstrip.
But by then the pilot had managed to free himself from the wreckage and walk 2km to the homestead, which was empty but unlocked, where he phoned emergency services.
When Mr Connolly got to the homestead the injured man was already waiting for the ambulance to arrive from Wilcannia.
“He could still walk but he was in shock; he wasn’t too flash. He had a good cut on his arm,” Mr Connolly told the BDT yesterday.
Although he has level 2 first aid training, Mr Connolly said there wasn’t much he could do except comfort the pilot, Michael, until help arrived about 30 minutes later.
Michael was taken to the Wilcannia hospital for treatment before being flown to Broken Hill by the Flying Doctor. A spokesman for the health service said yesterday he was in a stable condition.
Mr Connolly said the man, who was apparently heading to an air show, was lucky for a number of reasons.
When the plane came down it struck a tree at the end of the airstrip which ripped off the right wing and, according to Mr Connolly, broke the plane’s fall.
But another metre to the right and Mr Connolly said the plane would have hit the tree flush.
“He was still bloody lucky.”
Detective Sergeant Matt McCarthy said it appeared the composite plane stalled about 30 metres in the air before plummeting to the ground.
“I’d say he would be lucky to be alive,” said Det Sgt McCarthy, who added the accident could be investigated by the Recreational Aircraft Association.
While many station owners use light planes to get around their properties, Mr Connolly said he would never be one of them.
“I’ve had plenty of people I know have been seriously hurt or killed in these things.”