An official report into the cause of the aircraft crash in which five people were killed at Impalila Island in the Zambezi region at the end of August last year has revealed that the aeroplane took off with 34 kilograms more than its maximum take-off weight.
The report further states that other factors which contributed to the crash were an early left turn manoeuvre carried out after the aeroplane had taken off from an airstrip at Impalila Island and the aircraft’s wing flaps being retracted below the recommended speed for such a step.
In the report, two investigators of the Ministry of Works and Transport’s Directorate of Aircraft Accident Investigation concluded that the aircraft stalled and crashed after the early left turn manoeuvre.
The 21-year-old pilot Nicole Mienie and a family of four German tourists – Thomas Rings (59), Evelyn Rings (57), Alicia Rings (19) and Paulina Rings (17) – lost their lives in the crash on 30 August last year.
In the report, the investigators recount that the Cessna 210 aircraft in which Mienie and her passengers took off from the airstrip made an early left turn after take-off and then inclined sharply and veered off to the left, before the tip of its left wing struck a tree next to the Zambezi River and the plane crashed into the river.
All five occupants of the aircraft were killed in the crash. The aircraft was damaged beyond repair.
Aircraft accident investigators Thomas Herman and Ben Engelbrecht record in their report that the plane’s maximum take-off weight, according to its pilot operating handbook, was 3 800 pounds (about 1 723 kilograms).
However, the investigators calculated that the aircraft had a total weight of 3 875 pounds (about 1 757 kg) on take-off.
Before taking off, Mienie realised that the four passengers’ luggage was too heavy and decided to load off two big bags, which were to be forwarded to the family’s destination separately, it is recounted in the report.
The investigators recorded that Mienie was the holder of a commercial pilot licence that was issued on 4 October 2021. She had 310 hours of flying experience, of which 80 hours were on the Cessna 210 aircraft type.
According to a flight data tracking device in the ill-fated plane, the aircraft had a speed of 61 knots (about 113 kilometres per hour) when it turned left before the crash.
The aircraft’s stalling speed at maximum weight with flaps fully retracted was 69 knots (about 128 km/h), and it would stall if flown slower than that speed, the investigators stated.
They also noted that according to eyewitnesses at the airstrip, Mienie had some difficulty when landing at the airstrip about 40 minutes before the crash.
They concluded that this was due to a lack of experience and because Mienie was not familiar with the airstrip and had not received a briefing on it before she flew from Eros Airport in Windhoek to Impalila Island to pick up the Rings family.
The investigators did not detect any mechanical problems with the aircraft’s engine, fuel system and ignition system when these were tested during their investigation.