Hero crash pilot walks family miles to safety but dies from his burns

A British pilot sacrificed himself to save the lives of his four passengers in an “incredible” act of heroism. David Goodwin, 59, took over the controls from his partner Michelle Tilley, a less-experienced pilot, when their light aircraft became shrouded in cloud in a mountain range in South Africa last Thursday. He pulled the Cessna up higher but was forced to crash-land in a forest as it scraped the 6,300ft peak.

His family told how Mr Goodwin angled the plane to ensure he took the brunt of the impact, then stayed inside to free the others, including his partner’s two sisters and a teenage nephew, before escaping himself. Mr Goodwin was sat beside his partner Michelle Tilley who was flying the plane He suffered 95 per cent burns as he pulled them clear moments before the craft exploded in a fireball.

He then led the group almost three miles through countryside, at times carrying his partner’s sister, to a main road, where he flagged down a truck driver who summoned rescuers. Mr Goodwin died from severe burns in hospital the following day despite surgeons battling to save him. His nephew Jamie called him an “incredible man”.

He told Skydive Mag: “He angled the plane crash so he would take the most impact, then made sure everyone got out before he did, despite being engulfed in flames. A Cessna 206 similar to the plane that crashed “Regardless of sustaining terrible burns and being stripped naked by the flames he gave everyone the strength to keep moving and get away before the craft exploded.

“He even carried Michelle’s sister who couldn’t walk to get to the road. “He saved the lives of all of her family. He flagged down help and stayed incredibly strong until he knew everyone was safe.

Four people owe him their lives, and so many more are thankful for that.”

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Mr Goodwin, believed to be from Durham, had gone to South Africa with Ms Tilley and her sister Charlene for the funeral of their mother. Along with third sister Tanya Collins and her 17-year-old nephew Ryan, the group decided to go on a three-day air safari, visiting their mother’s favourite places in the African bush. The plane was being piloted by Ms Tilley, a qualified skydiver with 200 flying hours experience, as Mr Goodwin was not qualified to fly in South Africa.

It is thought that on their return to Pretoria, she had tried to fly under rolling clouds that met them 50 miles after taking off from Nelspruit, weaving through valleys in a practice known as “scud running”. Mr Goodwin, an experienced pilot with more than 1,200 flying hours, took over control of the Cessna 206 and tried to climb to safety. But 50ft from clearing the summit he hit a pine forest.

The plane was caught in the tree canopy before dropping to the forest floor, where it caught fire.

The survivors suffered burns and spinal injuries but none is in a life-threatening condition.

More about: | South Africa

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