Van Schalkwyk Not Qualified to Fly Plane

ACCLAIMED photographer and wildlife documentary filmmaker Paul van Schalkwyk was not correctly licensed to fly the light aircraft in which he was killed in a crash in March this year, according to a report on the official investigation of the accident that claimed Van Schalkwyk’s life.

A report on the crash that was released by the Ministry of Works and Transport’s Directorate of Aircraft Accident Investigation yesterday says the training that Van Schalkwyk received to fly the aircraft involved in the crash was not given by a pilot with a valid microlight pilot licence and with the instructor qualifications required in terms of Namibia’s civil aviation regulations.

The report states that the licencing section of the Directorate of Civil Aviation had been incorrectly issuing a temporary instructor rating to an individual pilot to carry out training and rating in different microlight aircraft, while the pilot does not hold a microlight licence and instructor qualification. That practice contravened Namibia’s civil aviation regulations, the report says.

The report also says that the crash in which Van Schalkwyk was killed in a northern section of the Etosha National Park on 8 March resulted from an attempt to make a sharp turn at a speed and a height that were too low. According to the report, Van Schalkwyk appears to have made the turn to take a picture of an elephant against a backdrop of a rain shower.

While making the sharp turn, Van Schalkwyk was taking photographs – which meant his full concentration was taken away from the task of piloting his Lockwood Aircam aircraft – and flying below the minimum height of 1 000 metres above ground level that is acceptable over Etosha National Park, it is also stated in the report.

“There was no evidence of engine, airframe or system malfunction prior to the accident,” says the report.

Photographs of an elephant that were found on Van Schalkwyk’s camera appeared to have been taken only moments before the fatal accident. These helped the crash investigator, Thomas Herman, piece together the sequence of events that ended in the crash.

“The pictures retrieved from the pilot’s camera revealed that in the moments before the crash the pilot was flying too low while taking pictures of an elephant in line with the thunder storm in the distance. Taking pictures while flying this type of aircraft severely affects the ability to maintain a safe flight,” the report says.

“The information from the pictures especially related to the position of the aircraft to the elephant and the timing they were taken indicate a lot of steep turns were made in close proximity to the ground.

“Information obtained through interviewing people close to the pilot and photographic work revealed that the camera used was heavy and it can only be handled with two hands during the photographic session, which means the pilot had to leave the flight control column to operate the camera which in turn made the flying a second priority.”

Van Schalkwyk, who was also the founder of One Africa Television, had taken off from Eros Airport in Windhoek, with Ongava Lodge close to Etosha his intended destination, shortly after 11h00 on 8 March. After he did not arrive at his destination a search and rescue operation was started the next day. The wreckage of his aircraft was found on 10 March.

Although Van Schalkwyk was safely secured with the plane’s safety harness, the crash was not survivable due to the force with which the aircraft struck the ground, the report says.

Van Schalkwyk, who was 58 years of age, had about 1 340 hours of flying experience as a pilot. Although he had a private pilot licence, he did not have a microlight pilot licence as required by the civil aviation regulations, according to the report. His experience flying a microlight aircraft amounted to about 49,5 hours of flying time, the report says.

One of the recommendations made in the report is that the Directorate of Civil Aviation should put measures in place to ensure that its licencing section adheres to laid down requirements and procedures.

Source : The Namibian