Revealed: Namibia crash report

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Namibia crash: Queenstown's Bill Walker

Kiwi glider pilots are being warned about flying unfamiliar craft overseas following a 2014 crash which killed two Queenstowners.

Bill Walker, 66, and David Speight, 70, were killed in a glider crash in central Namibia in November 2014.

The Namibian government’s official report, released to Mountain Scene, blames the crash on an in-flight breakup of the right wing.

It also suspects fatigue may have been a factor and has recommended mandatory stand-downs for weary glider tourists.

Queenstown glider Nigel Davy, who’s on Gliding New Zealand’s executive and has read the crash report, says Walker and Speight were flying an unfamiliar glider.

While the EB28’s fuselage is the same as the ASH 25 gliders they flew in NZ, Davy says the wings are “completely different”.

“It’s now widely known in NZ that pilots from around the world view the EB28 as an inherently unstable glider at low speed with very specific, fast actions required to recover from a spin or spiral dive.

“Before the accident I didn’t know there was much of a difference between the ASH 25 and EB28, and I don’t think they would have either – when you look at them they appear very similar but the wings are the difference.”

There are no EB28s registered with the Civil Aviation Authority in NZ.

Keen flyer: Queenstown's David Speight
Keen flyer: Queenstown’s David Speight

The Namibian Directorate of Aircraft Accident Investigations report, dated August last year, suggests fatigue might have played a part.

The report says Walker and Speight arrived only the day before, “travelling through 10 time zones from New Zealand, and ignored the effects of jet lag in the planning phases for [their] flight”.

As a result, the directorate has recommended a mandatory pre-determined rest period be implemented for pilots travelling to Namibia through different time zones. The glider base from which Walker and Speight took off, Kiripotib, did not respond to the had changed its procedures because of the crash, including adopting a recommended rest time.

The report said the November 30, 2014 crash happened in fine weather conditions in the Rehoboth district.

The probable cause of the crash was an in-flight breakup of the right wing, which broke into three parts, the report says.

Investigator Oskar Plichta said a contributing factor was the aircraft being “operated outside the designed flight envelope leading to excessive G-forces”.

Both “winglets” separated from the wings because of “extreme force”, the report says, causing the right wing to break off the glider’s body.

Witnesses at a nearby farm heard “a loud explosion followed by a fluttering sound coming from the sky above them”.

Walker, who had 4500 hours’ flying experience, piloted the ill-fated glider.

He was briefed two hours before take-off.

Speight’s widow Mairi says she read the report some time ago and it was a “bit old hat”.

“You’ve got no idea what really happened – and nor have I.”

Walker’s widow Jan didn’t want to comment.

Civil Aviation Authority comms man Mike Richards says: “This is a report by another state and its approach and findings and jurisdiction are not something we are able to comment on.”

Asked why the Namibian report hasn’t been made public, Richards says the final report is yet to be released.

Gliding NZ president Karen Morgan, of Balclutha, wouldn’t comment, saying the report hasn’t been sent officially to her group.

david@scene.co.nz