British pilot dies in plane crash; nine passengers survive

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A British pilot has died in a plane crash in the Caribbean Sea but managed to help save the lives of the nine passengers on the plane. Robert Mansell, aged 32, was a pilot who lived in the village of Knowle in the West Midlands of England. He had previously worked with Windward Islands Airways but was flying planes for Divi Divi Air at the time of his death.

At 0930 local time, Mansell was flying with his nine passengers between the Caribbean islands of Curaçao and Bonaire when the right engine of his Britten-Norman Islander light aircraft failed. At this time the height above sea level was roughly 3,500 feet. The pilot made a mayday call. It has emerged that the last words that he said on the transmission were: "I’ve lost control of one of my engines…so long." The aircraft then crashed into the Caribbean Sea.

File photo of a Britten-Norman Islander.

The passengers — seven of them local, two of them tourists from the Netherlands — managed to escape from the plane and were rescued by services in the area. The impact of the crash caused the pilot and several passengers to lose consciousness, however the passengers managed to recover and escape, suffering only minor head injuries.

Two passengers tried to rescue the pilot as the plane was beginning to sink and Robert was still unconscious. However, the crash had damaged the safety harness attached to the pilot, and the passengers were unable to free him. They were left with no choice but to escape through the plane door when they noticed that it was beginning to sink. The body of Mansell has yet to be found but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has now confirmed that he died on Wednesday, with a spokesperson for them saying: "We are aware of the death of a British national in a plane crash near Curaçao."

"He's a hero," said Simon Janzen from Divi Divi Air. "All the passengers survived and he is the only one missing. 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."

Robert Mansell's father Roger expressed his disapproval. "I am furious," commented Roger. "If you have nine people on board and a plane is overloaded and a problem develops, it becomes much harder to fix." Roger said that Robert had repeatedly explained to him problems about overloading, as the weight of the luggage and the passengers was not checked properly. Roger continued: "He was a wonderful son and a hero. Quite how he managed to bring the plane down in the water like that without it breaking apart is beyond me. It is a miracle that the passengers survived."

In response to the allegations made, Germaine Richie who is the owner of Divi Divi Air, made a comment saying: "We reject any allegations that we are overloading planes and putting safety at risk."