A married couple whose plane was left dangling from a 300ft-high zip wire in South Africa say they feared they would burn alive after fuel leaked over them.
Pilot Peter Gaddin, 62, and wife Mary, 60, were on a low flying anti-poaching patrol over plains near Johannesburg when they hit the steel cable of a thrill seeking ride at 75mph.
Incredibly, their Bat Hawk aircraft rebounded off the wire and was left swaying after the wire snagged around the propeller. The couple then endured a terrifying seven hour wait to be rescued – fearing they would be dislodged and plunge to their deaths at any second.
Mr Gaddin said they were coated with engine oil in the cockpit as strong winds buffeted the aircraft. His wife said she was so scared she just wanted to ‘fall and finish it’.
Describing their ordeal, Mr Gaddin said the aircraft swayed wildly for several minutes before he turned off the electrics to prevent a fire and used his mobile phone to call for help. They were eventually saved by brave mountain guide Rob Thomas, 51, who climbed down the zip wire on his own and pulled the pair out alive.
A married couple whose plane was left dangling from a 300ft-high zip wire in South Africa say they feared they would burn alive after fuel leaked over them. Dramatic pictures show a brave rescuer approaching the aircraft
The Bat Hawk aircraft rebounded off the wire and was left hanging with the couple enduring a terrifying seven-hour wait to be rescued – fearing they would be dislodged and plunge to their deaths at any second
Pilot Peter Gaddin, 62, and wife Mary, 60, were on a low flying anti-poaching patrol over plains near Johannesburg when they hit the steel cable of a thrill seeking ride at 75mph. They are pictured with rescuer Rob Thomas after being brought to safety
Mr Gaddin said they were coated with engine oil in the cockpit as strong winds buffeted the aircraft. His wife said she was so scared she just wanted to ‘fall and finish it’. The couple are pictured on their wedding day
Father-of-two Mr Gaddin, from Johannesburg, who together with his wife had been on the look-out for rhino poachers, said: ‘I came to a mountain and decided rather than go over it where there would be no rhinos I would go round it and being honest I completely forgot about their zip wire.
‘I just never saw the thing and one moment we were flying along happily and the next we were not. The first time I actually saw the cable we were hanging upside down from it.
‘There was a hell of an impact as the cable snapped the propeller and the canopy shattered and the fibre glass pod we were sat in cracked and both the wing struts were bent.
‘By some sort of miracle the cable had somehow bounced back and lodged itself on the propeller shaft between the blades and the engine on a large bolt which caught us.
‘It was only the fact that it had jammed very tightly that saved us from falling 300 feet to our deaths and it is ironic that the zip line that nearly killed us also just saved our lives. I just said to Mary ‘Oh my God what the f**k just happened!’
‘I was initially so disorientated by the impact and the sudden stop that I had absolutely no idea where I was or what was happening to us as you just don’t expect this to happen. The noise of the impact was immense and we were just bouncing about all over the place from our momentum and it took me a couple of minutes to work out the full situation.
‘We were in a very uncomfortable position lying on our backs looking straight up at the sky in our safety belts and we were like that too frightened to move for five very long hours.
‘I had turned the electrics off as fuel and oil had fallen onto us from the engine as I was scared of fire and luckily had my mobile phone so I rang the guys at the game reserve. They raised the alarm but until the rescuers could get there we were left hanging there not moving an inch wondering whether the next gust of wind was going to be our very last.
‘We were both scared out of our wits because we thought we were going to fall to our deaths but after the shock faded we realised that perhaps we had a chance after all. It was five hours until Rob reached us and we knew that at any minute we could fall.’
Describing their ordeal, Mr Gaddin said the aircraft swayed wildly for several minutes before he turned off the electrics to prevent a fire and used his mobile phone to call for help
They were eventually saved by brave mountain guide Rob Thomas, 51, who climbed down the zip wire on his own and pulled the pair out alive
Father-of-two Mr Gaddin, from Johannesburg, and his wife, Mary, had been on the look-out for rhino poachers when the drama unfolded. They are pictured in a microlight aircraft cockpit
It was then that Mr Gadding came up with a drastic alternative to rescue in the event of their plane becoming dislodged.
‘I said to Mary we were not going to give in and I was not going to die without a fight so I thought if we fell off the wire the weight of the engine may drop us down nose first,’ he said.
‘I would push the stick forward to get wind under the wings and then pull back and hope that we had enough time to try and fly and crash land it amongst the trees below.
‘Mary and I didn’t really speak a lot because there was not a lot to say and even though she is not a religious person she was praying to everyone and anyone to get us out of this.
‘It’s not easy to have a conversation with your wife when you have just flown her into a zip wire at 75mph and you are hanging upside down looking past your feet at the sky!
Rescuer Rob Thomas made the incredibly brave decision to rescue the couple alone, making his way along the cable to reach the stricken aircraft (pictured)
‘About three and a half hours after the impact Rob came on the phone and said that he was going to come down the zip wire and a little later we saw him on his way down to us. I just thought how incredibly brave is that a man risking death to save total strangers.
‘I also thought it would be such bad luck and such a bloody shame if after so long hanging upside down from the cable that we slipped off and fell to our deaths just as he got here!
‘Once he used a steel cable to secure the plane to the wire I knew we were not going to fall and that this guy was going to get us out of here alive and it was just a great feeling.
‘He told me to undo my safety belt and to put on a safety harness which was attached to a trolley on the cable and I climbed out and onto the wheel strut and was then suspended.
‘Unfortunately the nappy harness I was in was extremely uncomfortable down below to say the least and it is fair to say my voice may be a little bit higher for the next few weeks. I said to Rob “I am not that way inclined but yours is the prettiest face I have seen all day!”
‘Mary was terrified about undoing her safety belts and putting on the harness and climbing out the cockpit and Rob said to her: “Listen, you are quite entitled to be scared s******s”.
‘He was so brave and so calm and so pacifying and professional and he just told us to listen him and follow each instruction and we both just saw him as our guardian angel.
‘When we were both strapped to Rob and we were secure I knew we were not going to die that day and I take my hat off to my wife for overcoming her terror to get herself out.
‘Rob had us pulled about 100 feet up the zip wire but I was in absolute agony down below due to the way I was sitting in the harness and Rob decided to lower me down first. When Mary then came down and we were both on the ground we just hugged and hugged.
‘It was just a freak accident and I am pretty sure the plane can be repaired and up and flying soon.
‘The rescue took about two hours from when Rob reached us so we were up there for about seven hours and then it was another hour walking off the mountain’ he said.
The couple stressed how much they owe to the Mountain Club SA Search & Rescue team and the Pilanesberg Fire Brigade and the paramedics of ER24 and Medicare 911.
They also praised the South African Police Service air wing who flew rescuer Rob and his team to the scene and the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre for overseeing it all.
Mr GAddin is a professional pilot and has been flying for 32 years. The couple first married in 1978 but got divorced and then fell in love again and remarried 6 months ago in April.
He is as a senior pilot for CGG Airborne Surveys and his wife recently retired as a nursery nurse and they have two sons Peter-Jon, 39 and Donovan, 35, and two grand-children.
On Friday, they had taken off from an airfield at the Pilanesberg National Park near Rustenburg after volunteering to hunt for rhino poachers plaguing the reserve.
But Mr Gaddin decided later that rather than fly over a mountain that borders the game park he would fly around it and across the famous Sun City resort that nestles inside a volcanic crater.
On Friday, the couple had taken off from an airfield at the Pilanesberg National Park near Rustenburg after volunteering to hunt for rhino poachers plaguing the reserve
Mr Thomas told the couple to sit tight as he strapped himself onto a trolley attached to the steel hawser and then set off on the 550 metre journey down to the stricken Bat Hawk
The couple (pictured with their grandchildren) stressed how much they owe to the Mountain Club SA Search & Rescue team and the Pilanesberg Fire Brigade and the paramedics of ER24 and Medicare 911
But he totally forgot about a 1.2 mile zip wire that goes from the top of the mountain down into the theme park and allows thrill seekers to whizz down at speeds of up to 100mph.
He flew his plane straight into the steel zip wire but incredibly the cable that came so close to killing both him and his wife became their lifeline when the plane became fixed to it.
The Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre based in Johannesburg deployed emergency teams including the elite Mountain Club SA Search and Rescue squad to try save them.
Rescuer Mr Thomas was picked up by the South African Police Service air wing and flown to the scene to assess the rescue chances. He quickly realised that an extraction from above winching the couple up to the chopper would not work as the wash from the rotors may blow the plane off the wire.
So he made the incredibly brave decision to rescue the couple alone and had the chopper drop him off at the top off the zip wire and his team prepared to send him down the cable.
Mr Thomas told the couple to sit tight as he strapped himself onto a trolley attached to the steel hawser and then set off on the 550 metre journey down to the stricken Bat Hawk.
When he got there he used steel cables to attach the plane to the zip wire to stop it falling then manged to extricate Peter and Mary from the cockpit and lower them to the ground.
It was one of the most remarkable rescues in the long history of the Mountain Club SA Search and Rescue team and has led the nation to demand their bravery is recognised.
Mr Gaddin said: ‘Rob deserves the highest honour possible – his whole team does. Can you imagine the courage it takes setting off from a mountain top down a zip wire with certain death 300 feet below you as a total volunteer to try and save the lives of 2 people.
‘The pair of us well up with tears when we think what he risked to give our lives back’.
Wife Mary described her ordeal as a ‘total horror story come true’.
She said: ‘It was a beautiful day gliding over the savannah below looking out for the rhinos and just as we came around the edge of the mountain there was an incredible bang.
‘We were then suddenly hanging upside down and swinging wildly everywhere and I was covered in liquid which I thought was blood but it turned out to be fuel and oil.
‘My shoes flew out the open cockpit and my bottle of water hit me in the face giving me a black eye and when I cleared my vision I realised I was looking straight up to the sky. Peter told me we had hit the zip wire and we were stuck and to stay absolutely still.
Mary Gaddin (pictured with her husband before they set off on the flight) described her ordeal as a ‘total horror story come true’
The rescue was one of the most remarkable in the long history of the Mountain Club SA Search and Rescue team and has led the nation to demand their bravery is recognised
Mr Thomas used steel cables to attach the plane to the zip wire to stop it falling then manged to extricate Peter and Mary from the cockpit and lower them to the ground
‘I was in total shock and I was just sitting back in the most uncomfortable position and thinking we were going to drop off the wire at any second and fall to our deaths. I cannot tell you how terrifying it was – it was like your worst nightmare come true.
‘After a couple of hours hanging like that with the fear of dropping every second I finally felt myself feeling that I wanted us to fall and finish it and just take our chances to end it. I was so sick of the fear of not knowing what was going to happen and the extreme discomfort hanging there in the heat that I just wanted it over one way or another.’
She added: ‘Peter thought if we dropped he may be able to fly us down and I was up for that. Then we got a call from Rob from the mountain rescue and he told us he was coming down the zip wire and to stay calm and that he had a plan and it just gave me a second wind.
‘This guy was just so amazing and he attached the plane to the zip wire and told us we would not fall but unbuckling and climbing out and attaching to him was terrifying.
‘It was a 300-foot sheer drop and the wind was buffeting us so hard. When we were trapped the wind was blowing us around so much the wings were smacking the wire.
‘Rob got his team to winch us up the zip line and away from the plane and then lowered my husband first because of the extreme pain of the harness to his groin then he lowered me.
‘I cannot tell you the sheer elation of feeling the ground beneath my feet and being in my husband’s arms and knowing I was safe – knowing it was over and that I would not die.
‘The fireman waiting for me when I was lowered were wonderful and because I had lost my shoes they got me to a safe spot and a police helicopter came and lifted me to safety.
‘The wind became too strong to lift anyone else off so my husband and our rescuer Rob and the other firemen walked down the mountain and we were reunited in the ambulance.
‘Looking back on it I was very well behaved and didn’t give Peter an ear bashing for flying into the zip wire because I knew it was a freak accident and it was one of those things.
‘We didn’t talk a lot for five hours but just held hands and I prayed for the whole time.
‘I remember early on thinking we may die and I said: ‘Whatever happens I love you babes’
Hero rescuer Rob Thomas (pictured after a previous rescue) has been praised for his bravery in bringing the couple to safety
Nursing her black eye at their Johannesburg home, Mary (pictured with her husband and firefighters after the rescue) said that they will go back out on anti-rhino patrols again and said: ‘I love flying with my husband and we will go back up again
Nursing her black eye at their Johannesburg home, Mary said that they will go back out on anti-rhino patrols again and said: ‘I love flying with my husband and we will go back up again.
‘What happened was just a total one in a million thing and we have to get on with it.
‘I just want to thank so much those brave people who came together to save our lives’.
Mr Thomas joked: ‘I volunteered as the Dope on a Rope to try and get them out and spoke to Peter on the radio and told him that I was coming down and not panic and stay totally still.
‘I had no idea why the plane had not fallen to the ground but when I got there I saw that by a remarkable twist of luck the cable had been hooked under a large nut beneath the propeller.
‘I was terrified the movements I was making may dislodge the aircraft because the wind had got up and I was being buffeted about so I just had to wait for the wind to die down to carry on.
‘I got the door to the cockpit open and the pilot was nearest me with his wife on the far side and they both had their safety harnesses on and were lying on their backs in rocket launch position.
‘I think it is fair to say they were terrified as they had spent many hours facing upwards as their plane was blown about by the wind wondering if the next gust could be their very last one.
‘It was also very hot with the temperature outside being in the high 30 degrees and they were inside a cockpit and were suffering from dehydration and were obviously very distressed.
‘The pilot told me to rescue his wife first but I told him that was too dangerous as he was nearest me and that I could not get to her without getting him out first and that was the way forward.
Rob Thomas begins his journey down the zip wire. The plane can be seen in the distance, hanging off the cable 300ft above the ground
‘The aircraft was in an extremely precarious positon and I told them to unlock their seatbelts and trust me and passed the husband an extraction harness and attached it to a trolley on the zip wire.
‘I told him to get out and join me outside the aircraft.
‘I then passed the wife an extraction harness and told her to do the same and attached her to the trolley as well and with the three of us attached got the guys at the top to pull us back upwards.
‘I was very concerned that if the plane fell now that with over 500kg’s plane weight suddenly not being on the cable we would be pinged all over the place and that would not be too pleasant.
‘We were an extremely heavy load to pull up a cable so when I felt we were far enough away for the plane to be safe I lowered a rope and told the husband to prepare himself to be lowered.
‘I would guess it was about 80m down at that point in high winds and I lowered them both and then I abseiled down and called in a chopper to get Mary and Peter and I walked back down.
‘They had an incredibly lucky escape and after they were safely down the zip wire was lowered allowing the aircraft to be retrieved and it looks as if not too much damage has been done.
‘We could not risk lowering the cable with them in the plane in case it dislodged the plane.
‘It was a very unconventional rescue but it worked out very well and I hope that when Peter and Mary get over their shock that they will get back up in the air and help the rhinos.
‘But what I very much want to stress is that this was an incredible team effort involving very many organisations working together in a very professional way and it was not all me.
The Bat Hawk is a high wing stealth aircraft used by many game reserves for anti-poaching patrols as it is extremely quiet and can fly very slowly and take off and land in just 30m
‘I have ended up in the limelight by I was just one small cog in a very large wheel and that has to be remembered’ he said.
A spokesman for ER24 confirmed both patients had escaped injury but they were taken to a nearby private hospital for further assessment and both were believed to be in shock.
Russel Meiring for ER 24 said: ‘They explained to paramedics that the only thing they could do was not to move as they were scared that the aircraft would fall and take them to the bottom.
The Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Service called in the services of the Mountain Club SA Search & Rescue team and the police air wing to link up with the rescuers on the ground.
Spokesperson Santjie White said: ‘As they got there we quickly realised hoisting people out of the hanging aircraft would be very dangerous because of the high winds and thunderstorm risk.
‘One of the Mountain Rescue SA team went down the line and took them out of the wreck and connected them to himself and then away from the aircraft and lowered them to safety.’
A spokesman for the Pilanseberg National Park said: ‘Our Bat Hawk named Mafolodi flew into the Sun City zip line and the pilot Peter and his wife Mary were rescued and were not injured.
The Bat Hawk is a high wing stealth aircraft used by many game reserves for anti-poaching patrols as it is extremely quiet and can fly very slowly and take off and land in just 30m.
In 2011 business tycoon Arie Neven, 52, died instantly when he flew his Bell Jet Ranger 206 into the same zip wire on his way to pick up friends from a farm on the outskirts of Sun City.