737 and Cessna 404 in collision over Namibia

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DAVID LEARMOUNT / LONDON

Light aircraft lands safely after mid-air impact as airliner continues to destination

A TAAG Angola Boeing 737-200 with 45 people on board and a chartered Cessna 404 survived a mid-air collision shortly after they had taken off from different airports serving Namibia's capital, Windhoek. The 737 crew reported the collision to Windhoek tower, then continued its flight to Lubango, southern Angola, and took off again for its final destination, Luanda.

The Westair Wings Charters 404, with only the pilot on board, had taken off from runway 01 at Eros Airport on 26 December for a visual flight rules positioning flight to Tsumkwe in north-eastern Namibia, and had just levelled at FL115 (11,500ft/3,500m) when the impact with the 737 occurred.

TAAG's 737, carrying nine crew and 36 passengers, had taken off from runway 08 at Windhoek Hosea Kutato International Airport. About 4min later, cleared to FL310 (31,000ft), the 737 collided with the Cessna 404 about 28km (15nm) north of the airport at FL115, according to the Namibian Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication (MWTC). "All of a sudden this climbing 737 comes up from underneath," says Westair managing director Wolfgang Grellmann. "There was very little that the [Cessna] pilot could do."The twin-engined 404 had a large section of its fin, rudder, tailplane and elevator smashed by the 737's starboard wingtip, but the pilot managed to return to Eros. "If the damage had been 3in [76mm] deeper, it would have taken out the central rudder hinge," says Grellmann. "That would probably have led to a loss of control."

Grellmann says the Westair pilot had activated the aircraft's transponder, so Windhoek centre should have been able to identify it. But the pilot reported trouble establishing radio contact with the centre when he was handed over from Eros Airport, so he had not heard the 737 or its clearance to FL310. Another Westair pilot was also experiencing problems contacting Windhoek centre at the time, says Grellmann.

In a statement, the MWTC says: "V5-WAA [the Cessna] returned to Eros Airport, whereas DTA 572 [the 737] continued its flight to Lubango and Luanda."

Namibia's Aircraft Accidents Investigation Directorate says it has begun an investigation but does not yet know what damage the TAAG 737 suffered, if any, and the Angolan airline says it cannot provide any detail.

However, an Air Namibia crew at Luanda has reported seeing substantial damage to the last 2m of the 737's right wing leading edge, says Westair's maintenance chief Peter Keil.

The South African Airways team that maintains TAAG's fleet has grounded the 737 for repairs.