Medical technologist Melanie Lewis was at the right place at the right time when a police helicopter, McDonnell Douglas MD500, came crashing down "like a rock" in Moot, Pretoria on Friday morning.
"We saw it in the air, and then it just went down like a rock," she said.
The pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Koosie De Villiers, and his crewman Lieutenant Colonel Shabir Khan, were both seriously injured in the crash.
Lewis was on her way to work, at 8.10am, driving along Mansfield Road, when she saw the helicopter "go down, and never coming up".
The aircraft was travelling in a southerly direction and crashed in a park in the area, about 150 meters from offices and houses.
"I arrived at the scene to find that both men were flung from the wreckage.
"The first thing I heard one of them say was something about failure. The passenger said he was fine, but I told him to lie on the grass. The pilot complained that his back was very sore, so I couldn't move him. He also had a few lacerations from broken glass," she said.
The pilot then asked her to dial the number of his wife, so he could tell her what happened.
"He told her, 'I must tell you something, We gave crashed, but I'm fine'. He then called Wonderboom airport to report the crash."
Lewis who is a member of the Sector Policing Forum, said she was lucky enough to have a radio in her car, which allowed her to contact paramedics and officials.
"I reported the incident and they were there within minutes. It was actually amazing."
She described the aircraft as being a "total mangled wreck", with no windows left as it "was all smashed up".
"There was broken glass everywhere. A wheel was lying about 20 meters away and one of the seats was completely smashed in.
"There was no fire, but loads of smoke. Once authorities arrived, the area was cordoned off as curious people started arriving in the hundreds. They said it was very dangerous to be near," she said, adding that the occupants were taken to hospital.
Lewis said when she eventually got to work, people in the office asked her, "why are you so sweaty?
"I told them, you will never believe what happened. Everybody was in shock when I did. I promise you, it was like a scene from a movie."
National police spokeswoman Brigadier Sally de Beer said both officers were transferring the chopper from Wonderboom airport to the Heli-pad at the Pretoria police school.
"The aircraft was going to be used for training."
De Beer confirmed engine failure had caused the aircraft to crash.
Both officers were in a stable condition in hospital.
"They have sustained back and neck injuries, but are fine and doing well."
Tshwane ward councillor Dana Wannenburg commended the pilot on his decision to direct the aircraft into the park.
"It's so close to the houses and businesses, he really made an excellent call," he said.
The two pilots who crashed in a helicopter near Wonderboom airport last Friday are recovering well in hospital and cannot wait to fly again.
Their chopper crashed after an engine failure, but the two survived after being rushed to hospital.
Lieutenant-Colonels Kosie de Villiers and Shabir Khan were flying a McDonnell Douglas MD500 from Wonderboom Airport to the national police air wing base in Pretoria West, and were to fly National Police Commissioner General Bheki Cele to the Kruger National Park in less than an hour in another helicopter.
Khan was discharged on Thursday but de Villiers’s recovery is expected to take a little longer, though the enthusiastic pilot was in good spirits in the Unitas Hospital on Thursday.
“Being here in hospital has given me ample time to think about the accident and the truth is, if the same situation occurred again I would not have done anything differently.
“We have been trained to react in a certain way in a situation like that and we did everything right.
“Our concern at the time was finding a place to land where we would be able to survive.
“It all happened so quickly and you have to think fast. I still remember everything that happened because I never blacked out,” said De Villiers.
He managed to give his cellphone to one of the people helping at the scene so they could call the office in Pretoria West to tell them of the accident.
“I had hardly finished the call when there were already paramedics on the scene. I felt a big relief and immediately thought of a friend of mine who once had to crawl out of a helicopter and I literally instructed people who were helping him what to do because there were no paramedics,” he said.
De Villiers said he would never stop flying despite the terrible experience of the crash, but all he was eager to do when he was discharged was to have a cold beer with his colleagues at the base pub.
Khan, who was counting the hours before being discharged, said his main fear after the crash was the possibility of the helicopter exploding.
“The chopper was carrying 600 litres of fuel and if it had exploded we would not be having this interview right now.
“Before the crash, we realised there were a lot of cars down there and if we landed there, there would definitely have been an explosion and many people would have been injured,” he said.
Khan described the last moments before the crash as a near-death experience and said he appreciated the fact that he was still alive.
“You basically have two minutes to wrap things up and you think about everything in your life.
“Fortunately things turned out differently and there were people very quickly on the scene.
People left their cars and ran to come and save us,” he said.
Asked about his attitude towards flying following the accident, Khan was upbeat about getting out of hospital and recovering so he could fly again.
“You have to overcome your fears no matter what. Flying is my life and I cannot wait to jump into a chopper again. But the one thing I miss is my family and just spending time with them.
“The visiting times in hospital fly by so quickly. They are very strict and professional so when it is time to go it is time. But they have been taking such good care of us so I am not complaining,” he said with a smile on his face.
De Villiers was fitted with his brace on Thursday and his recovery is proceeding slowly, but it appears he will also be out of hospital soon. - Pretoria News