Two rescued after plane crash at sea

TWO people were winched to safety by helicopter moments after their light aircraft crash-landed into the sea off the Suffolk coast last night.

The plane, which was en route from Germany to Norfolk, crashed into a sandbank at North Shipwash three miles off Orfordness just after 6.30pm yesterday.

Pilot Gary Collings, 49, from Ditchingham in Norfolk, and his passenger Mark Andrews, 34, from Northampton, were taken to hospital after the dramatic ending to their flight.

Mr Collings brought the plane down three miles off Orford Ness, Suffolk, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said.

It is thought the aircraft’s engine may have cut out, forcing Mr Collings to ditch.

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The men were rescued from the water after making a mayday call.

The RAF search and rescue helicopter from Wattisham Airfield airlifted the pair from a dinghy and flew them to Ipswich Hospital.

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Thames Coastguard received the Mayday call at 6.32pm to reports of a light aircraft ditching into the water with people on board.

The Aldeburgh and Harwich lifeboats were sent to the last reported position of the aircraft but when crews arrived they found that the Cessna PA32 aircraft had already sunk onto the sea bed.

The RAF search and rescue helicopter from Wattisham Airfield, plus another from Belgium, were also called to the scene.

When the Wattisham crew arrived at the scene there was no sign of the plane but the crew spotted two men in a dinghy floating nearby and they were winched to safety and were flown on to Ipswich Hospital.

Sgt Andy Carnell said the men appeared to be cold and wet but were “seemingly in good health.” He said the aircraft was travelling in a north-westerly direction and added: “The men said they had to ditch into the sea because of serious engine failure.

“They knew it was coming because the engine started to make a strange noise. It enabled them to make a controlled ditching.”

Steven Saint, coxswain of the Aldeburgh Lifeboat, said: “We were told that two casualties had been airlifted from the water but carried on to the crash scene to see what we could find.

“The plane had already sunk by the time we arrived. The first thing we were able to recover was a life-raft.

“There was very little debris floating on the surface. However, we were also able to recover a wheel from the plane and a pair of headphones.”

Thames Coastguard Watch Manager Karen Paradise added: “The two people in the aircraft had been given verbal instruction on how to perform a controlled ditching before they came down. They are incredibly fortunate.

“As a result of the skills of the rescue helicopter crew this incident was brought to a swift and successful conclusion.”

A Coastguard spokesman confirmed the plane was heading from Germany to Hardwick, near Long Stratton in Norfolk.

The Air Accident Investigation Branch of the Department of Transport are to examine the incident.

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