Pilot survives brush with death

A relieved Rob Thomson, 60, stands beside his plane which had the rudder and tail fin ripped off after clipping low-lying power lines.
A relieved Rob Thomson, 60, stands beside his plane which had the rudder and tail fin ripped off after clipping low-lying power lines. Nev Madsen

EXPERIENCED pilot Rob Thomson has vowed to be back in the skies today after a terrifying brush with death yesterday.

Mr Thomson, 60, was flying less than one metre above the ground while spraying cotton at a property near Bowenville at 6.30am when the plane’s tail hit low-hanging powerlines.

“There was a big bang and the plane was really hard to control,” Mr Thomson said.

Mr Thomson saw the rudder had been ripped off and the rear fin was dragging along behind the plane — leaving him with no steering mechanism.

Mr Thomson, who has been a pilot for 36 years, said he was very cautious when flying under powerlines, but some had been flood-damaged and were hanging lower than usual.

“I lost the ability to steer the aeroplane so the first thing I did was panic,” he said.

“The second thing I did was to try and stop the plane from crashing by keeping the wings level.”

He radioed his wife and made the 15-minute flight to his property south-west of Dalby.

Mr Thomson’s wife, Floris, watched nervously as her husband tried to land the plane four times without success.

He decided to fly to the Oakey Army Aviation Centre for help.

Mr Thomson arrived at the centre at 8.20am where army personnel, fire fighters, paramedics and police were on standby.

After dumping the remaining chemicals, Mr Thomson landed safely on his third attempt.

“I didn’t think I’d kill myself, but I didn’t think I would save the plane.

“Luck played a part,” he said.

Mr Thomson owns the business Darling Downs Air Spray and has been spraying for 31 years.

“This sort of flying we do is very hands-on control. We’re used to frights,” he said.

“I’ve hit about five powerlines in my time, but never had something as potentially serious as this.

“People have been killed from it (hitting powerlines).”

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has been notified and is making inquiries.

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