Test pilot Dave Stock was killed on Saturday when the English Electric Lightning interceptor he was flying at an airshow in the Overberg developed a technical problem and he was unable to eject.
Stock (46), a test pilot on the South African Air Force’s BAE Systems Hawk Mk120 lead-in fighter programme, was in he second leg of a flying display over AFB Overberg near Bredasdorp east of Cape Town when he reported a hydraulic fault to air traffic controllers.
He next reported that he was bailing out, only to add that the ejector seat on the Mach 2 fighter was malfunctioning as well.
The Hermanus-based flier had completed close to 16 000 flying hours and had taken part in more than 100 air shows, the Afrikaans-language Rapport newspaper reported yesterday.
Stock was well-known in flying circles. Four years ago he set the South African speed and height record at the Ysterplaat air show by climbing up to 9000m in the Lightning in only 1min 43sec.
Thunder City CEO Mike Beachy Head said Stock “had an impeccable track record with over 2000 flights recorded without incident.”
Colonel Marius van der Heever, officer commanding AFB Overberg said the SA Civil Aviation Authority will investigate the accident.
The Sunday Times noted the aircraft was one of several civil-owned ex-military machines which take thrill-seeking tourists on aerobatic flights over Cape Town.
Beeld reports today that Stock tried to eject three times. Experts speculated on Sunday whether the hydraulic problem could cause the canopy to fail to detach. The canopy must detach before the ejection seat can be activated, the paper added.
The Lightning was the last exclusively British-built fighter and served the Royal Air Force from 1960 to 1988. Some were also exported to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Thunder City operated four of the type – the last flying examples left in the world.
Airshow commentator Brian Emmenis told Beeld Stock maintained contact with the air traffic controller throughout, “saying what he was trying to do to overcome the problems. The next moment, the plane ‘flip-flopped’ and plummeted straight down into the ground.”
The SAAF then scrambled an AgustaA109LUH and two Oryx helicopters to search for Stock as it was not clear at the time if he had ejected before impact.
However, it was soon clear that there was no chance that Stock could have survived.
The air show’s pilots decided to continue with the military part of the programme, Beeld adds and the Silver Falcons, the air force’s display team, upheld tradition by performing the Missing Man formation, in which one plane breaks away from the group.
“People were standing around crying openly – everyone was part of the tragedy which took place right before their eyes,” Emmenis said.
There was a sombre atmosphere at the base on Sunday, as the pilots left for home.
Pic: A Frans Dely shot of Stock’s Lightning the evening before his fatal crash.