Ndebele pays tribute to SA Airlink pilot

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pretoria - Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele today paid tribute to the late SA Airlink pilot who died last week after sustaining injuries during a crash landing of the aircraft he was flying.

The aircraft crashed into a school ground in Merebank shortly after take-off from the Durban International Airport on Heritage Day.

Ndebele said today was a very sad day as friends and family pay their last respects to Captain Allister Freeman, 38.

He said a person of Freeman's experience was irreplaceable. "Pilots are, by the nature of their profession, a scarce skill. It takes many years to train a pilot to operate according to international standards."

Ndebele praised Freeman and First Officer Sonja Bierman for not landing the aircraft at a populated area.

"Instead of landing in a populated area, under what were clearly stressful conditions, the crew had the presence of mind, the experience and the orientation to land their aircraft in an open piece of land.

"In directing the aircraft towards the school sports field in Merebank, Allister saved us from what could have been a worse tragedy," he said.

He said the department and the civil aviation industry should learn from the unfortunate event, adding that all of the emergency services were being analysed to see how better the industry can strengthen such responses.

Despite the tragedy, the minister said the civil aviation industry comprises of men and women of integrity who were trained to the best international aviation standards, but who always strive to learn more and do better.

"We live in a time when we know for certain that the South African civil aviation industry operates on the basis of the highest standards of safety."

The late Freeman was laid to rest in Boksburg, near Johannesburg.