Family of four die after aircraft crashed into crocodile-infested river

A German family-of-four plunged to their death on the last last day of their dream safari holiday after a 21-year-old inexperienced pilot made an “early left-hand turn” having only just taken off, a new report has revealed. The family and the young pilot smashed into a nearby crocodile-infested river in Namibia after clipping the top of a tree, killing all five onboard, as the family were on their way to a final flight back to Munich. 

Just moments before takeoff, the family had watched as the South African pilot, Nicole Mienie, who had just 82 hours’ experience flying the Cessna C210 small aircraft, ballooned upon landing, meaning she failed to smoothly touch down the plane.  

An Air Accident Investigation heard how the Cessna C210 dived into the River Zambezi in Namibia shortly after take-off having turned too early, causing the plane to fall out of the sky.

Shocked rescuers heard screams from the flooding aircraft after the crash but by the time they smashed their way into the cockpit with axes, 40 minutes after the incident, the German family and South African pilot were dead.

The plane, overloaded with luggage, had entered a “tight stall” after the pilot tried to sharply turn the aircraft at too low a height and at too slow a speed. 

Post-mortems recorded that the force of the aircraft impacting with the River Zambezi was “beyond human tolerance”, even with seat harnesses. 

Investigators heard the pilot reported that the tourist’s bags were so heavy the tail of the plane was nearly touching the airstrip prior to takeoff. 

The charter operator Scenic Air told their pilot to offload bags to the driver, who ferried the tourists to the remote Navy airstrip, and return them to be stored at their luxury river villa. But even after some of the luggage was taken off the plane, the weight limit was still exceeded. 

The driver of the car which delivered the tourists to the airstrip raced to the scene along with two other witnesses but they could not initially find a boat to reach the aircraft.

The Air Accident Report said “eye-witnesses who saw the plane go down got to the wreckage quickly but were restricted by the fuel and vegetation, and they had no boat to get to the aircraft for nearly 40 minutes”. 

A highly-experienced Cessna C210 pilot, who had flown the aircraft for over a decade in both Namibia and South Africa, said the accident was caused by pilot error.

The accident happened on August 30, 2022, when Namibian-based South African pilot Nicole had flown from Windhoek to a gravel airstrip on Impalila Island.

The senior pilot said: “This was a low-hour pilot with a commercial licence held for less than a year being sent to an airstrip she was unfamiliar with and not been briefed fully about.

“Very sadly the plane took off overloaded and it was flying too slow to turn so early and with the flaps also having been retracted too soon the Cessna went into a tight stall.

“At that height, the stall was almost unrecoverable and tragically all five died but there is no doubt this was an accident that could have been avoided and mistakes were made.” 

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He added: “This was a very hot day indeed on a runway 3000ft above sea level which further degrades aircraft performance and the left turn after take-off was entered too slow and too heavy. When the Cessna was stalled the subsequent crash was very sadly inevitable.” 

The Air Accident Report read: “The left wing was pointing 90 degrees down [after the stall] and clipped a tree by the river then the right wing impacted the water followed by the nose which caused the engine to break off.

“A rescue was done by cutting a hole into the top of the aircraft cabin between the wings and when they did so to gain access all the occupants were strapped into their harnesses.

“The harnesses had to be cut free to get them out of the wreckage but all five on board were found to be fatally injured and the aircraft was totally destroyed in the impact.”

The German family had chartered the light aircraft to pick them up after their last three nights of holiday at the nearby luxury Chobe Water Villas overlooking the Zambezi.

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