Caparica beach tragedy: pilot and pupil appear in court

With new details emerging today of the horror experienced by beachgoers as a light plane crash landed among them killing two, the pilot responsible and his passenger have been questioned since this morning at Almada court.

Just as they were described in yesterday’s reports, the two men showed no emotion as they entered the building, shortly after 9am.

Their apparent sanguefroid in the face of what they had done caused outrage on São João beach yesterday (click here).

Maritime police were forced to step in to protect the men as a gathering crowd shouted abuse, calling the pilot particularly a killer.

Accounts in various newspapers stress the “calm” on the pilot’s face as he brought the Cessna down on the packed beach – a decision that has been strongly criticised.

The first victim was a 56-year-old man hit by one of the wheels. He is reported to have died instantly, and has yet to be named.

The second victim, however, has been described simply as ‘eight-year-old Sofia’, a child on the beach with her father, mother, sister and cousins.

Sofia’s horrified parents witnessed her death as the plane hit her on the head.

Despite a doctor being among beachgoers, there was nothing he could do, reports tabloid Correio da Manhã. Sofia’s injuries were simply too extensive.

TVI24 interviewed Sofia’s father who is adamant that the pilot was thinking of saving his own skin, rather than the safety of others.

“He wanted to land without any concern with the rest”, said the man, reinforcing questions which began yesterday over why the apparently experienced flyer chose to come down on land at all, and not opt for bringing his craft down on the water nearby.

The problem with this tragedy was that the plane was making no sound. Its engine had apparently failed and thus its approach in silence towards beachgoers left many not realising what was happening until the horror was upon them.

Lifeguard Nuno Alves told Diário de Notícias that once he saw the plane was headed for the sands he “started whistling like mad” to warn people.

“I didn’t know where it was going to land, but I knew it was coming down in the middle of everyone”.

Alves was one of the first to reach the victims, and was “still in shock”, he told the paper. This is the last year he will be a lifeguard, and he certainly didn’t want to end the three-year stint with this kind of tragedy.

Sofia’s father meantime described the awful moments that he will never forget.

As CM explains, he was “playing with his daughters, nephews and nieces when he noticed the plane approaching.

“I told the children to run, and I told Sofia to run behind me”, he said. “Once I saw the other children were safe, I went back to get Sofia. I saw the plane hit her. I knew straight away she was dead”.

CM’s television channel has been outside Almada court for the day, and the two men inside had yet to start being late into the morning.

The delay was apparently due to the court awaiting various technical reports.

Shortly after 5pm this afternoon the Portuguese passenger, a flight school pupil, left the court building, but remained unresponsive to the assembled press throng’s questions.

Meantime, footage of the incident and discussions over what kind of charges the two men may face have been constantly aired by television stations.

The consensus is that a charge of negligent homicide for the pilot remains a strong possibility.

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