Published On: Thu, Sep 25th, 2014

Pilot warned bosses of overloaded planes days before fatal Caribbean crash

divi_divi_bn2p_pj-sun_bonaire_091022_1BIRMINGHAM, England, WILLEMSTAD, Curaçao – Just days before he died in a crash landing in the Caribbean Sea, a young British pilot had voiced concerns about flying overloaded planes.

Captain Robert Mansell, 32, skilfully ditched his twin-engine aircraft in the water off Curacao after sending out a mayday message when one of his engines failed.

Mansell’s expert landing gave his nine Dutch passengers time to escape the aircraft before it sank, but he lost his own life after being knocked unconscious when the aircraft hit the water.

Although his passengers struggled to save him, his safety harness was damaged and they couldn’t release him from the cockpit which was rapidly taking in water. A post-mortem revealed that Mansell died from drowning after suffering a head injury.

The aircraft, which was flying from Curacao to Bonaire at the time of the October 22, 2009 accident, sank to the ocean floor minutes after hitting the water.

An inquest into the young pilot’s death, which was held at Birmingham (England) Coroner’s Court this week, revealed that he had expressed concerns about the overloading of the British-made Britten-Norman plane to his bosses at Divi Divi Air on a number of occasions.

He had also expressed safety concerns to his father Roger, a fellow pilot, in the days before his death.

At the inquest, Air Accident Investigator Timothy Atkinson said the maximum weight limit for the plane was 6,250lbs, but the crashed plane had weighed in at 7,211lbs.

An investigation reportedly revealed that this was no isolated incident.

“The overloading of the planes was a systemic habit with the airline,” Atkinson told the inquest.

The air accident specialist went on to say that an aeroplane could cope with being overweight with two working engines but not when one fails.

The doomed plane’s right engine cut out shortly after taking off from Hato airport bound for Flamingo, some 40 miles away from the crash site, the inquest revealed.

Mansell could have headed back to Hato Airport but elected to continue to Flamingo after alerting air traffic control to the situation, Atkinson said.

Only seconds away from land, he was forced to ditch the plane into the sea, however. The force of the impact knocked him unconscious, smashed his windscreen, and water began to pour into the cabin.

The jury at the inquest recorded a narrative verdict which said the “aircraft was significantly overweight.”

The Dutch Safety Board carried out its own investigation and made recommendations to the Curacao Aviation Authority to address the issues of flying overweight aircraft and to tighten controls.

Robert Mansell studied aeronautical engineering at Bristol University before obtaining his pilot licence in 2006. He became a captain shortly after.

He worked as a pilot in the Solomon Islands before moving to the Netherlands Antilles.

Speaking after the inquest, his 78-year-old father Roger, a retired civil aviation engineer, paid tribute to his son who he described as a “hero.”

“As a pilot myself I know the difficulty of landing these planes in the situation he found himself in. If he wasn’t a good pilot, he couldn’t have ditched it so everyone could be saved. Other pilots wouldn’t have known what to do, but he landed the aircraft so that everyone could get out safely. If he hadn’t ditched the aircraft properly it could have somersaulted over and would have most likely killed everyone on board.

“I am so proud of him. He really is a hero.”

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