A powerboater whose family sprang into action when a biplane crashed into Poole Harbour on the south coast, narrowly missing yachts, rocks and a chain ferry, tells her story.
Libby Chambers, her partner Alan Badenhorst and their three children were on their 3.1m rigid inflatable boat’s maiden voyage when they witnessed the biplane, struggle and then plummet into nearby water.
The 1940s vintage Boeing Super Stearman, carrying a wingwalker, flipped upside down during the unscheduled sea landing, which occurred during a Bournemouth Air Festival display.
Libby said: “The pilot did an outstanding job to avoid all the boats who had been out to watch the air show, the rocks and the chain ferry.
“There must have been a good 50 boats coming in.”
The incident happened just before 4pm on 4 September, near the Haven Hotel at Sandbanks.
The family, who had motored out to their friend’s Sunseeker yacht to watch the Red Arrows display, were returning to Poole Yacht Club.
Mum-of-two Libby, 43, said: “We were literally just coming up to the chain ferry when something in the sky caught my eye.
“I thought it was a seagull and there it was, a biplane.
“Alan said ‘Get your phone out, you can film it, he’s doing a really low flypast’.
“I said ‘I don’t think this is deliberate’. I don’t know how the pilot managed to land it in that little place, as the plane hit the water, the nose caught and it flipped over.
“It was an open cockpit plane, the wingwalker had been sat in a seat in front of the pilot.
“The pilot was very cool and calm, he literally popped up out of the water, took a couple of breaths and dived back down, a couple of seconds later he came out with her.
“She was in such a state, bless her, screaming her head off.
“The pilot did all the saving, we just fished them out of the water.”
The wingwalker was in a panic to get out of the sea and attempted to scramble over the outboard motor, so Libby helped her in over the side of the RIB.
Libby added: “I turned to the pilot and said: ‘We need to get you in mate’, he said: ‘I’m quite heavy’ because he was wearing all his pilot gear.”
Alan and his daughter, Saba, aged 12, pulled the pilot aboard, making the 3.1m vessel quite laden.
Libby’s children Ella, 12, and Jonathan, nine, were also aboard.
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A larger SeaSafe RIB, which was passing, assisted and transferred the casualties – with the wingwalker still screaming – to North Haven Yacht Club, Sandbanks, where they were administered care by three Poole RNLI Lifeboat volunteer crew.
An RNLI Lifeguard also attended along with Coastguard volunteers.
The casualties were transferred into the care of South West Ambulance Service and taken to hospital.
Dorset Police said the pair sustained ‘minor injuries.’
Libby added: “A man on a Jet Ski also helped.
“The plane went down so fast, we sent him to hover on the spot because we didn’t want the chain ferry to come back over it.
“Then we went for a big drink at Poole Yacht Club.
“It’s not every day you rescue a pilot and a wingwalker from a plane sinking into the sea, after a lovely day out at the air show.
“The maiden voyage for our ‘super yacht’ might be hard to surpass!”
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This feature appeared in the November 2021 edition of Practical Boat Owner. For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving advice, great boat projects, expert tips and ways to improve your boat’s performance, take out a magazine subscription to Britain’s best-selling boating magazine.
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