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Brush with trees sets plane alight

Aug. 28: The pilot of the AFX 180 two-seater aircraft was desperate to land on an empty paddy field, but he hit some trees, lost control and brushed against thatched and tiled huts before crashing in a blaze of flames.

A technical “air safety” team from Delhi and accident inspectors from Dum Dum airport came to this conclusion after examining the debris at Swetpur village, about 20 km from Calcutta.

“He shouldn’t have taken off at night in the first place. After examining everything, we feel that in a desperate attempt to land, the pilot did not spot the trees,” said Ram Nath, director, Air Safety (Delhi region).

“May be, he could have landed without any problem (minus the trees),” he added.

Nath said: “Two officers from the civil aviation ministry will probe the incident. The wreckage will be brought to Dum Dum tomorrow.”

The small and light Cessna aircraft caught fire immediately after hitting bamboo trees and spun out of control, making it impossible for Doeke de Graaf to land.

The fact-finding team spoke to air traffic control officials who interacted with the Dutch pilot when he sent an SOS after detecting a snag, shortly after take-off.

“He was seen working on his plane at the airport but no one bothered to check whether he had any technical problem. We will never know what he was looking for. But it was unwise to fly in unknown territories in the night of a new moon,” said Nath.

During his brief stopover at the airport, Graaf spoke to some of the personnel there. He apparently said he would visit Phuket before heading home. “I helped him clear immigration and other formalities at the airport. His papers were in perfect order. He was in very good spirits and did not seem tired after a long flight,” said an official. Graaf was delivering the aircraft to a person in Singapore.

The paddy field at Swetpur where the plane crashed was the centre of activity today as hundreds congregated to see the charred remains. Twelve hours after the accident, smoke was billowing from the aircraft.

Graaf’s body was brought to Calcutta for a post-mortem.

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