Norfolk pilot’s miraculous escape after dramatic crash landing

A Norfolk pilot and his passenger had a miraculous escape after ditching their plane at sea following a suspected engine fire, a report has revealed.

Pilot Gary Collings, from Ditchingham, near Bungay, and his passenger Mark Andrews, from Northampton, were rescued after the plane crashed into a sandbank near Orfordness in Suffolk on September 1 last year.

They were flying from Germany to Hardwick airfield, near Bungay, in a 1973-built Piper Cherokee when they began to smell burning and the engine started running roughly about 20 miles from the English coast, according to an Air Accidents Investigation Branch report. As a result, Mr Collings reduced engine power and made a Mayday call.

The report said the 49-year-old prepared to ditch the aircraft as the sea conditions were favourable and he considered that a glide to the coast was unlikely to be successful.

He reminded his passenger of the ditching procedures and shut the engine down because of concerns about a possible fire in the engine compartment.

The report says that as the aircraft descended, Mr Collings became aware that he might be able to reach land but decided the best option was to continue with the ditching as planned, as the sea conditions were good and there were several boats in the area.

'He turned the aircraft into the wind and concentrated on the touchdown,' the report said.

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'The aircraft touched down in a wings-level attitude. The pilot reported the impact was violent and the deceleration was rapid. The aircraft settled nose down and water ingress into the cabin was faster than he expected.

'The occupants' egress was slightly impeded by cables and headset leads, but once on to the wing, they successfully deployed and inflated the life raft.'