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Norfolk pilot relives sea rescue drama

PUBLISHED: 08:00 03 September 2010 | UPDATED: 09:50 16 September 2010

Emily Dennis

A Norfolk pilot who had a lucky escape after his light aircraft ditched into the sea last night spoke of the "scary moment" the plane went down and praised the emergency services for their actions.

A Norfolk pilot who had a lucky escape after his light aircraft ditched into the sea last night spoke of the “scary moment” the plane went down and praised the emergency services for their actions.

Pilot Gary Collings, 49, from Ditchingham, near Bungay and his passenger Mark Andrews, 34, from Northampton, were taken to hospital after the dramatic ending to their flight on Wednesday evening.

The plane, which was en-route from Germany to Norfolk, crashed into a sandbank at North Shipwash three miles off Orford Ness in Suffolk, after it was believed to have experienced engine trouble.

Thames Coastguard received a Mayday call at 6.32pm to reports of a light aircraft ditching in the water with people on board.

The Aldeburgh and Harwich lifeboats were sent to the scene but when the crews arrived the Cessna aircraft had already sunk onto the sea bed.

An RAF search and rescue helicopter crew from Wattisham Airfield spotted the two men in a dinghy floating nearby and they were winched to safety and taken to hospital.

They were described as “walking wounded” and were discharged later that evening.

Speaking from his home last night, Mr Collings said: “I am fine, a little bit uncomfortable, but we are absolutely fine.

“It was a scary moment. We are both alive and kicking - that is all I could hope for.

“If there is a message it is very simple, to air traffic control, Harwich lifeboat, RAF Wattisham, a couple of people who chirped up on the radio on the way down, the statistics are not good when it comes to ditching an aircraft and those people were first class.

“I would like to thank all those who helped.”

Thames Coastguard watch manager Karen Paradise said the pair were very lucky.

“The two people in the light aircraft are incredibly fortunate,” she said.

“As the result of the skills of the rescue helicopter crew this incident was brought to a swift and successful conclusion.”

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said Mr Collings had done “exactly the right thing”.

The spokesman said: “If you've got trouble you call mayday, which is a distress call.

“He called mayday and was able to give his position so he was able to be tracked on radar, he had a life raft on board, he was able to control his ditching to minimise the effect, and they lived to tell the tale.”

Mr Collings lucky escape could mark a change in fortunes.

In 2004 the EDP reported how a fire destroyed the roof of his 19th century home.

No one was hurt as Mr Collings, his wife Alison and their three children had been out on a shopping trip when the fire took hold.

The fire came just over a year after a medieval tithe barn on land behind the house was destroyed and a family dog killed by fire fuelled by heating oil and gas canisters.

At the time The Rev Ian Bentley, vicar of nearby St Mary's Church, said it was “rotten luck” for the family to be victims of fire again.

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