Sipho Mabena
Premium Journalist
3 minute read
5 Apr 2019
9:35 am

The day I nearly died…

Sipho Mabena

When the Ethiopian Airlines tragedy happened, I was reminded of the second chance in life I have been given.

The crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane has put the spotlight on an anti-stalling system used on the 737 MAX 8 aircraft. Picture: AFP / Michael TEWELDE

The catastrophic Ethiopian Airlines crash reminded me of my recent terrible experience in a plane.

I was covering the budget speech in Cape Town and the following day went straight to the Cape Town International Airport for my 5.30pm flight, unaware that a terrible experience awaited me, airborne.

Our FlySa Boeing 737 took off and there was a subtle bang from underneath that made me uneasy.

As required, the crew took us through emergency protocols. After people had ordered their drinks and snacks, an odd alarm went off.

The intercom buzzed moments later and the captain introduced himself before alerting us to a technical problem with the aircraft.

A hostess kept looking at the wings through windows – and then the worst happened: we were prepared for an emergency landing.

The woman next to me started praying. That’s when I got scared. The tough guy on the other side tried hard to stay calm but I could see sweat streaming down his face.

The intercom buzzed again and this time we were told we were cleared to land back at Cape Town International Airport, but it took another gruelling 40 minutes before we touched down. During that time the woman next to me was in a state and I had given up on ever seeing my children again.

During that flight I told my wife how much I loved her and I was ready to go down.

When the plane finally touched down, there was a thunderous applause.

When the Ethiopian Airlines tragedy happened, I was reminded of the second chance in life I have been given.

The drama aboard FlySafair flight FA102 was caused by a system error regarding the plane’s weight communicated to the pilots shortly after take-off. This meant the plane would not be allowed to land at OR Tambo International and had to return to Cape Town International.

But apparently this particular aircraft has no capacity to dump fuel and the only option was to keep flying to burn the fuel before landing back in Cape Town.

That was my most horrific experience in the air. I was so scared and started thinking about what I have achieved and failed to achieve. I started asking myself what would my wife and children be without me.

I heard my fellow passenger’s wailings and prayers. The woman next to me looked at me and asked: “Are we really going down? Is this happening? We are in the middle of the sea!”

This was the same woman I a few moments ago had an altercation with because I was on her seat.

This journey was so ghastly that I had to gather some strength to take the replacement plane to Johannesburg. Aboard that flight I was praying like the woman on the previous fateful flight.

When I arrived at my flat in Sophiatown, I was grateful to be on the ground.

What I took out of this whole experience is to be grateful for every day, because many others are not so lucky.

The 157 people who perished aboard the Boeing 737 MAX 8 were not so lucky.

I am not sure when I will be flying again…

Sipho Mabena.

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