A long-term friend of an Orangeville couple who were seriously injured in a fatal plane crash in South Africa last week has spoken of their dedication to the community.
Theresa Park Rural Fire Service captain Hugh Gent said Ross and Lyndal Kelly had spent more than 20 years volunteering with the fire crew.
The couple and Douglas Haywood, of Sydney, were among 19 people aboard a vintage aircraft that crashed into a factory shortly after taking off from Wonderboom Airport on Tuesday, July 10 local time (12.30am on Wednesday AEST).
Mr Kelly and Mr Haywood, both experienced pilots, were flying the 64-year-old Convair CV-340 from Pretoria to Pilanesberg on a test flight when the plane went down.
The plane’s final destination was supposed to be Aviodrome aircraft museum at Lelystad Airport in the Netherlands.
Local tourism operator Rovos Rail, which owned the plane, said in a statement on July 16 that the pilots were in induced comas but were stable at Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg.
“The prognosis is optimistic,” the statement said.
Mrs Kelly was in a stable condition last week.
An experienced flight engineer, Chris Barnard, and a factory worker on the ground were killed.
Mr Gent said family members had travelled to the Kellys’ bedsides.
Mr Gent said he was “good friends” with the Kellys and Mr Kelly was deputy captain of the brigade.
“Ross is a dedicated firefighter,” he said. “He was recently on the crew that helped extinguish the large bushfires at Heathcote a couple of months ago.”
The fire captain said Mr Kelly was passionate about aircraft and was a retired Qantas captain.
“He loves being a member of the Illawarra's Historical Aircraft Restoration Society in Albion Park,” he said. “He also loves Qantas.
“He flies planes around Australia and internationally.”
Mr Gent said Mrs Kelly loved showing her Cairn Terrier dogs.
Mrs Kelly, who is an artist, had her artwork projected on the Diggers Furniture building during the 2017 IlluminARTe Festival.
Mr Gent said the couple had lived in Orangeville for more than 20 years and met when they worked at Qantas.
He recalled waking up to news of the plane crash last week.
“As soon as I heard a vintage plane had gone down, I thought it was Ross,” he said.
“It was very upsetting.
“I have only received an update from Ross’ brother last week.
“They will have a long road back to full recovery.
“All the brigade members are waiting for more news.”
News of the crash devastated the volunteer community at Historical Aircraft Restoration Society, of which Mr Haywood was also a member.
HARS works with similarly aged aircraft, including one near-identical to the Convair CV-340 involved in fatal crash.
President Bob De La Hunty told the Illawarra Mercury that Mr Kelly and Mr Haywood flew a Convair to Albion Park almost two years ago and as a result were sought out by the operators of Aviodrome to deliver the plane.
"They [Mr Kelly and Mr Haywood] were both on leave, we didn't know what they were actually doing," Mr De La Hunty told the Mercury.
"It was a huge shock to us when we heard what had happened.
"They're wonderful, close friends and exceptional pilots, greatly experienced not only on airlines but vintage aircraft as well, for many, many years.
“They have a big passion for saving history and a great interest in all technical aspects, so they are wonderful people."
Both men have flown Qantas for more than 30 years, including as A380 captains, with a combined 37,000 hours of flying experience.
Qantas released a statement last week which said the airline was deeply upset to learn the pilots, one current and one retired, were on board the ill-fated plane.
“This news has shocked the Qantas pilot community and everyone’s thoughts are with the families,” the statement said. “We’ve reached out and are providing whatever support we can.”
The plane broke into pieces on impact, with the fuselage splitting in two and the tail detaching completely from the aircraft.
Three Dutch museum staff, who were on the flight, were also injured, but were later released from hospital after being treated for minor injuries, Aviodrome said.