Load caused fatal crashBy: WERNER MENGES
AN official investigation into the plane crash in which three people were killed in Windhoek in mid-November last year has been concluded with a finding that the crash was caused by overloading and a pilot error in the calculation of the weight of the heavily loaded aircraft.
A South African pilot, Dhaven Govender (42), and two Windhoek residents, Christian Schubert (48) and Gernot Zimmermann (19), were killed when the Cessna Caravan 208B aircraft in which they were supposed to be flying to Ondjiva in Angola crashed moments after taking off from Eros Airport on the morning of November 15 last year.
Another passenger, Immanuel Hilukilwa (29), survived the crash with serious injuries.
A report on the official investigation of the crash was released by the Directorate of Aircraft Accident Investigations in the Ministry of Works and Transport yesterday.
The aircraft was carrying a full load, consisting of building material, paint, boat spares, toolboxes, liquid beverages and meat, when it took off from Eros Airport en route to Ondjiva.
The crash flight was the first flight that Govender undertook from Eros Airport, it is stated in the accident report. Govender had been employed with Aviation @ Work, a South African company owning the aircraft, since the start of November last year, the report also states.
According to the report, cargo weighing about 810 kg was loaded into the aircraft by a handling agent, under Govender’s supervision, on the afternoon before the flight. Before departure on the morning of November 15, though, additional cargo arrived, and this too was loaded into the plane – but without being weighed by the handling agent.
The luggage of the passengers and pilot was also loaded without being weighed.
In addition to that, the extra cargo that had been loaded – placed inside the cabin on top of and between seats, all the way to the roof of the plane – was not secured to prevent it from shifting around, it is stated in the report.
After taking off in a southerly direction, the aircraft rose to a height of about 300 feet above the ground, before it sank lower again. It then turned to the right, “entered a high nose-up attitude”, and started to spiral to the left, before it crashed to the ground, it is related in the report.
Aircraft accident investigator Titus Shuungula calculated that the aircraft’s total weight at the time of take-off was 9 691 pounds (4 395 kg). “The maximum certified take-off weight for this type of aircraft was 9 062 pounds (4 110 kg),” it is stated in the report.
It is also stated that the pilot had “made one fundamental error in his weight calculation”, by using an incorrect empty aircraft weight of 4 575 pounds (2 075 kg), instead of the correct weight of 5 174 pounds (2 347 kg).
As a result, it was found that the aircraft’s maximum take-off weight was exceeded by 629 pounds (285 kg).
The report lists this fact as the first probable cause of the crash.
The second probable cause is stated as: “The aircraft failed to maintain flying speed and stalled shortly after take-off, rendering ground impact inevitable.”
Shuungula also stated: “Inadequate oversight by the regulatory authority should be regarded as a significant contributory factor to this accident.”
He recommended that aircrew not familiar with Eros Airport should be given proper, detailed pre-departure briefings on the characteristics and hazards of the airport.
In addition, it was recommended that Namibia’s civil aviation authority should start carrying out inspections at airports, with special emphasis on weight and balance compliance before flights.