A teenage schoolgirl in South Africa, Anika de Beer, tragically died on Tuesday in an aircraft she was flying solo, just days before her 17th birthday… which is tomorrow.
This was her second solo flight. Just recently Anika’s delighted mum Rika and dad Andries had presented their daughter with a traditional bottle of champagne after her first lone flight (although at 16, she was still going to have to wait a while before she could drink it).
But sadly, only days later – on 30 June – she got behind the flight controls of the Piper Cherokee 28A-180 to do solo practice landings and circuits at her local airfield; and ended up crashing at high speed, away from the runway. The plane burst into flames.
The talented pilot is believed to have lost control and stalled as she prepared to land at Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria.
Anika’s distraught parents say they have had to her cancel her birthday party which was planned for tomorrow, and instead invite her grief-stricken friends to attend Anika’s funeral tomorrow (Saturday). Her parents say: “Our hearts are shattered – she was our everything. We are lost.”
Another pilot who had just landed noticed the plume of smoke rising up from the flames of the crashed aircraft and radioed it into the control tower after radio contact with Anika ended.
The airfield’s fire brigade was quickly at the scene along with ambulances but could do nothing for the teenage pilot whose body was found inside the burnt-out Piper Cherokee.
A senior local pilot said: “I have no wish to prejudge the accident report but the wreckage shows that it was a high speed impact and I would suspect the plane stalled while making an approach turn.
“Anika would never have been allowed to fly solo by her instructor if he was not 100% confident she was ready, and when she did her first solo flight a few days before she didn’t put a foot wrong.
“Unless there was a structural or engine failure we may never know what happened up there but her loss has hit everyone in our community at Wonderboom Airfield extremely hard,” he said.
Anika had done just over 24 hours training and was due to take her Private Pilot’s Licence after she turned 17 tomorrow. She had set her heart on flying passenger jets for South African Airways.
Her tearful mum Rika says: “Anika was the joy in our lives and our red-haired little pilot. Her ambition was to travel and see the whole world as a commercial pilot flying a Boeing.
“There is a world map in her bedroom on the wall and she said that when that day came she would soon know every corner of the earth. Flying was her passion and her biggest dream.”
The 16-year-old was a member of the Professional Flight Centre at Wonderboom Airport and centre advisor Karel Ehmke confirmed Anika had gone up to do solo circuits and landing flight training.
Karel said: “She was a brilliant pilot and died doing what she loved most – being a pilot.”
Under South African Air Law a student pilot can learn to fly at 15 and fly solo at 16 but cannot apply to take their Private Pilot’s Licence until they are 17, which Anika had planned to do.
She had just 24 hours of flight training under her belt and was flying on her second solo flight.
Owner of the flight centre Andre le Roux said he could not comment further as an investigation is underway into the death of the young pilot, but added: “We are all severely traumatised by it.”
The Tshwane Emergency Medical Services declared the schoolgirl dead at the scene and the Accident and Incident Investigation Division have been called in to prepare a report into the tragedy.
The flying club which Anika was a member of said on its Facebook site: “You will always be part of our family and we will never forget your smile which lightened the room whenever you walked in.
“May you spread your wings and fly high with the angels in heaven,” it said.
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