Friday, November 20, 2009

Pilot saves day as airplane ditches at sea

Captain Dominic James ran out of options as his plane - carrying a seriously sick woman and four others - was running out of fuel close to Norfolk Island.

In the murky and facing a 1.5-metre swell, he brought the Westwind jet down and ditched in the ocean.

As the jet sank, the passengers - the patient, her husband, two medical team and the two pilots - clung to each other for 90 minutes in the water previous to they were rescued by a boat.

The ill lady was on a Careflight medical migration flight from Apia in Samoa to Melbourne, operated by Pel-Air Aviation.

The airplane was scheduled to land at Norfolk Island for refueling, Careflight says.

But after several ineffective approaches, Captain James - a Cleo Bachelor of the Year finalist - performed his version of the extraordinary Hudson River ditching of Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger III.

Norfolk Island airport director Glenn Robinson said today the passengers were "shaken up" following their ordeal.

"They were enormously lucky and, believe me, they all know it," he told Radio 3AW.

Only three passengers had time to put on life jackets and the others were forced to cling to them as the plane sank and they were left treading water awaiting save, Mr Robinson said.

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