Six passengers who cheated death in a plane plunge into Tanzania’s Lake Manyara on Thursday have hailed their “hero pilot” for the miraculous escape.
Narrating the chilling mid-air ordeal when all the engines of the Tanzanair plane suddenly stopped working, the survivors revealed how they fervently prayed for their lives.
“We cried to God to spare our lives and then a chilling silence descended on us as the aircraft was hurtling down at high speed,” said Ms Anic Kashasha from her hospital bed in Arusha on Friday.
She said the pilot, identified only as Mr Kondo, struggled to avoid land and aimed at the water to minimise the impact.
Another survivor, prominent Dar es Salaam lawyer Protas Ishengoma, said all the engines ceased at 16,000 feet above sea level.
He was seated in the cockpit with the pilot when the unthinkable begun to unfold.
“I saw first-hand how the pilot struggled to steer the plane from imminent disaster after losing power. He told us he would aim for the water and that decision kept death at bay,” Mr Ishengoma narrated.
He said the pilot announced he had lost one engine at 21,000 feet above sea level.
“He declared an emergency and said we would land in Arusha shortly but at 16,000 feet the other engine also seized and the aircraft started descending at high speed.”
According to the lawyer, who spoke at a hospital emergency ward before being discharged, from there on the group resorted to prayer and before ominous silence befell them.
“As human beings, we feared for our lives and the thought of death struck hard,” said Mr Ishengoma, adding that even after hitting the water no one was certain they would not drown immediately.
He said they had already put on their life jacket handed out by the lone pilot and were lucky that the plane landed in shallow waters and some fishermen rushed quickly to their rescue.
“They plucked us from the plane floating in the water and took us to safety on the lake shores.”
Mr Ishengoma said while still high up, they felt it would be impossible to survive a crash.
“We were all resigned to die and I personally placed my life before God and offered what we knew would be our last prayers. I prayed for my wife and children,” he narrated.
He said their flight from Bukoba to Dar es Salaam, via Zanzibar took off at 7am and the ride was smooth all the way until the engine problems started.
“But God is great and today we are all safe and sound despite the slight injuries,” he said.
The survivors hailed the fishermen for their help and promised to return to the scene as a group some other day to thank them.
“We salute the fishermen as the real face of Tanzania. They helped us without asking for a penny and looted nothing at the scene of accident,” said Mr Ishengoma, who noted one of the good Samaritans was disabled with only one hand.
They group nevertheless criticised emergency response from the government agencies, noting they waited for more than two hours to be taken away to hospital.
Captain Kondo was not among those at the hospital and efforts to get him were futile.
They have urged the government to improve emergency and rescue services around the country.
“Despite lack of funds the state should ensure vital rescue equipment is in place,” another survivor, Mr Alloys Mwanga, appealed.