A survivor’s story of a pilot’s plane crash experience
Who would have thought that a flight that started in a clear blue sky would end up in a crash? But thank God, I survived.
It was my CPL (commercial pilot licence) qualifying solo cross-country flight on September 12, 2003. I had completed the flight from Zaria to Jos, Jos to Abuja, and was on the last leg from Abuja to Zaria. Despite VFR (visual flight rules) weather in Zaria and my alternate, Kaduna, I had delayed departure for Abuja weather to improve.
The flight started smoothly with a few clouds. And then with CBs (cumulonimbus clouds) en route, I needed slight deviations to the original flight path as my Tampico TB9, a single-engine aircraft, was very limited in climb performance. By the time I got to my PNR (point of no return), Kaduna Tower had informed me that there was a heavy storm over the station.
On my attempt to go back to Abuja, I found myself surrounded by CBs that had built up into thunderstorms. My endurance was depleting fast as I tried my best to circumnavigate visually, considering I was flying an aircraft with no weather radar. I decided my best choice was to attempt to land on a football field I had sighted earlier in the flight when I was still in VMC (visual meteorological conditions)
But it meant I had to fly through the storm. I was left with two options: cry and drift around until the fuel finishes and I crash, or fight through the storm and see if I survive to see another day. I chose the second option.
I made peace with God, my maker, and prepared to die, but not without a fight. I remember going through the storm, refusing to let go of the control column, despite the violent weather. After several minutes, I managed to emerge below the very dark clouds, but it was too low to make contact with any control tower. I made a blind radio transmission, stating my intention to attempt to land on the football field (with approximate coordinates according to my GPS). I would later discover that Capt Bahago, who happened to have been flying the Nigeria 001 with President Olusegun Obasanjo onboard, picked up my transmission and relayed it to the control tower.
I “landed” on the field in Angwa Gamo village, Kaduna but the aircraft ended up in a gully. I was rescued by the villagers who graciously donated to fuel the only motorbike in the village to take me on about 2 hours ride in heavy rain, to the nearest police station.
A letter of commendation from President Olusegun Obasanjo ended all investigations and considerations to end my flight training.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be alive, for the privilege to complete my flight training as the best graduating student, and to know that God always makes a way, even during the storm. Never, ever give up.
What life situation has taught you never to give up?
- Mrs. Tolu Ita is the Country Manager, International Beverages Consultancy. She is a business leader, aviation manager, flight operations expert and board member.