For most things that you want to do in life, there is a “standard” path that you’re supposed to take. You get the education or training you need from an approved source, work hard, and if everything goes well, you make it.
But sometimes, it’s necessary to go off the beaten path to achieve what you want to in life. You may have to find an alternate route, which can come with its own risks and rewards. For one man who dreamed of being a pilot, he would find out that sometimes the different risks can outweigh the rewards…
Dreams of Flying
Chris Wilson had always wanted to fly. It’s what led the man to become a member of the cabin crew for a British airline company. While that job put him in the air constantly, Chris had higher ambitions. He wanted to be a pilot.
To achieve his goal, Chris would have to spend, 1,000 hours behind the controls of an airplane before he could get his pilot’s license. He determined that the fastest way for him to get his hours in was to go somewhere where it would be easier for him to go straight to co-pilot than in England…
Making a Move
To that end, in his late 30’s Chris gave up his cabin crew job and moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010. There, he began working as a copilot for a local airline called Filair, flying with Danny Philemotte, who was also the owner of the airline.
Should Be Good
You would think that copiloting for a pilot who also owned his own airline would be great experience for the aspiring pilot. Unfortunately, Philemotte wasn’t exactly the best pilot to learn from. Chris repeatedly expressed his concerns to his family…
“Every time he flew with Mr. Philemotte there was always one incident or another.” said Chris’ brother Martin. “He said he didn’t want to fly with him anymore. He said if it wasn’t for the fact that they could see where they were going, they wouldn’t ever get anywhere because Philemotte couldn’t read the instruments.”
He Should Be Dead
Martin added that Chris had said “he didn’t know how Philemotte was still alive, his flying was so bad.” On top of that, Filair was dangerously lax in how it managed passengers during flights. Passengers would stand and walk around the smaller airplanes, making them unstable during times that they were supposed to be seated with their seat belts on…
Chris also said that it was common for passengers to take animals on planes. Because the plane that he and Philemotte flew took relatively short flights, people would often buy tickets as a way to taxi small animals and chickens from place to place.
I Need My Hours
“[Chris] didn’t really want to go back there but he wanted to get his flying hours in,” said Martin. So Chris kept copiloting for Filair, counting down from 1,000 with each flight. Unfortunately, one cataclysmic flight would stop that countdown for good…
During a routine flight across the Congo that Philemotte and Chris had made dozens of times before, everything was going fine. The flight, was filled to capacity with passengers and, as usual, Philemotte’s flying was shaky at best.
Approaching For Landing
Still, things were going well enough. They had taken off safely and were approaching their destination. But as Philemotte began to make his approach to the landing strip, there was suddenly some kind of commotion…
Apparently, one of the passengers had been carrying some kind of animal in a duffle bag. As the plane began descending toward the runway, the passenger’s bag somehow came open and the animal had gotten out…
If it had been a chicken or some other harmless thing, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. But this was no typical farm animal. The animal that had gotten out of the bag and was now loose in the cabin was a crocodile…
Panic in the Cabin
Imagine how you would react if you saw a 3-foot-long crocodile in the aisle on an airplane. The panicked passengers did exactly what you would probably do: they tried to put as much distance as they could between themselves and the dangerous reptile.
Rushing the Cockpit
The crocodile was somewhere near the back of the plane so all of the passengers rushed toward the front, close to the cockpit. Unfortunately, that meant the center of gravity of the small plane was suddenly thrown out of whack…
Like a Leaf
Even if Philemotte was an expert pilot, the sudden shift would have been extremely dangerous, especially as the plane was already descending for its landing. But he was no expert. In the middle of what should have been a standard descent, according to observers on the ground, the plane seemed to just fall out of the sky “like a leaf.”
On its way to the ground, the body of the plane struck a mud and brick building, then crashed into the ground before coming to a stop where it collided with a second building. The airport’s emergency crews reacted as quickly as possible, rushing to the airplane to assist the survivors, if there were any…
When they got to the airplane, they found that nearly everyone onboard was gravely injured. Those that weren’t, including Chris and Philemotte, had died on impact. The emergency workers got the surviving passengers the medical attention they needed as quickly as possible but only one of those injured people managed to survive.
In the aftermath of the crash, it wasn’t clear what had caused the accident. A number of theories came forward, including a fuel shortage, overloading of the plane, engine failure, maintenance issues or even simple pilot error. The idea that the crash was the result of some sort of sabotage was even entertained, as competition between local airlines was fierce…
Stall and Spin
The only thing that was fairly certain was that the plane somehow stalled and spun out before it crashed. It wasn’t until the one surviving passenger regained consciousness that the story became clear to investigators: the mini-stampede, caused by the crocodile seemed to have been the cause.
No Black Box
However, it’s not 100% certain that the stampede, caused by the crocodile was the cause of the crash. British investigators were never able to recover the black box, the device that records a number of different types of information that investigators can use to determine the cause of a crash.