Saturday, 19 October 2013

Belgian plane crashes with skydivers on board, 11 dead

Ten skydivers and a pilot have died after the plane they were in crashed shortly after taking off in Belgium.

The PC-6 Pilatus Porter plane had taken off from the Temploux aerodrome but is thought to have developed a wing problem after reaching a height of about 3,000 metres.

Some of the skydivers and their instructors attempted to jump to safety as the aircraft went down but were also killed.

Witnesses have reported seeing part of the one of the wings falling off.

The aircraft came down between the small villages of Marchovlette and Fernelmont and burst into flames just before 4pm local time (3pm BST) on Saturday.

Benolit Pierson, who was in his garden nearby at the time, said, “I just saw this plane bobbing violently up and down. It was obviously having great difficulty staying airborne and then it suddenly lost its right wing in mid-flight. I heard a massive bang.

"There was another massive explosion and ten seconds later it crashed.”

He told Belgian television that seconds before it hit the ground, he saw three parachutists come out of the plane and try in vain to open their parachutes. "They appeared to be desperately trying to open their parachutes but it was much too late.”

He added: “They must have opened just as they landed.I could see that one of the victims was still alive when I got to the scene, but he was clearly terribly injured. I tried to get into the plane but was beaten back by the flames.”

One witness told Belgium's Sud Presse newspaper: "The plane flew over my house and I saw pieces fall from the plane.

"Then the plane pitched, and nose dived, crashing about 200 yards away."

Jean-Claude Nihoul, Mayor of Fernelmont, said: "Three parachutes open ground show that three people tried to jump," adding that "it is a tragedy that we had never known in the region."

The three men attempted to open their parachutes after jumping from the light plane which had caught fire and lost a wing shortly after take-off.

But their parachutes failed to open in time and they perished along with seven other parachutists and the pilot, who had become a father for the second time earlier in the week.

Three parachutes were later found opened at the scene of the crash near the village of Marchovelette, 10km (six miles) from Namur on Saturday afternoon.

The plane careered into a field of wheat, less than 250 metres from a row of houses.

Most of the 11 victims are believed to be experienced parachutists but one of those who died was a young woman flying for the first time as a birthday treat.

The reason for the accident is not yet known but investigators have been summoned to the site to find out why the plane suddenly plunged to the ground from a height of around 3,000m.

Efforts are also being made to confirm the identities of those who died.

Firefighters rushed to the scene, some 75 km (47 miles) south-east of Brussels, but are understood to have been unable to save any of those on board.

Mr Nihoul, said: "The plane took off from Temploux aerodrome with 10 parachutists and probably a pilot on board and crashed around 10 minutes later in a field.

"All those on board are unfortunately dead. The toll is 10 or 11 victims."

Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo confirmed the news soon after, saying his thoughts were with the families of the victims. He later visited the scene with his interior minister.

The same plane and pilot, operating out of the Paraclub in Namur, had carried out 15 similar flights,or 'rotations’, earlier in the day apparently without any problems.

A source at Belgacontrol, the air traffic operator, said: “We do not have a lot of information at present, as this particular aircraft used a system where the pilot relies on sight rather than instruments.”

Michel Douront, a local fire chief, said: “It would normally take a plane like this 15 minutes to reach 4,000m so, as this happened after only ten minutes into the flight, it must have been at a height of about 3,000m. It appears to be a tragic accident.”

The exact cause of the accident was still being investigated. Pieces of wing were found several hundred meters from the crash site.

Jean-Claude Nihoul, the mayor of nearby Fernelmont, said: “We no longer recognise the plane, which is totally destroyed. It is an awful tragedy.”

Belgium’s King Philippe and the country’s prime minister, Elio di Rupo, arrived at the crash scene last night to help comfort the victims' families and friends, who had gathered at a local sports hall. They were joined by Interior Minister Joelle Milquet and mayor of Namur, Prevot Maxime.

Saturday 19 October 2013


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