“I tried to save the pilots, but I was knocked unconscious”
A fisherman who was one of the first on the scene of a plane crash in Tanzania’s Lake Victoria on Sunday that killed 19 people has told how he tried to rescue the pilots trapped in the cockpit and nearly lost his life trying to save them.
Majaliwa Jackson has been officially declared a hero, awarded 1 million Tanzanian shillings ($430; £370) and offered a job with the fire and rescue squad for his efforts.
Speaking to the BBC from his hospital bed in the lakeside town of Bukoba before the government’s announcement, Mr Jackson said he panicked when he saw the passenger plane approach in the wrong direction before plunging into the lake.
He rushed to the scene with three fishermen and helped open the rear door by smashing it open with a rowing oar, which helped rescue the passengers in the back of the plane.
Mr Jackson said he then moved to the front and dove into the water. He and one of the pilots then communicated with each other by making signs through the cockpit window.
“He directed me to break the window screen, I got out of the water and asked the airport security officers who arrived if they had any tools with which we could break the screen.
“They gave me an axe, but I was stopped by a man who came down with a public address speaker and smashed the screen. He said they were already in contact with the pilots and there was no water leaking into the cockpit,” Mr Jackson. said:
He added that after being stopped, “he dived back and waved goodbye to the pilot”.
But the pilot then stated that he still wanted to bail out.
“He pointed me to the emergency cockpit door. I swam back up, got a rope and tied it to the door, and we tried to pull it in with other boats, but the rope broke, hit me in the face, and knocked me out. The next thing I know I was here in the hospital,” Mr Jackson said.
Both pilots are among 19 confirmed dead after the plane, operated by Precision Air, Tanzania’s largest private airline, crashed on the shores of a lake.
According to Precision Air, 24 of the 43 people on board survived.
On Monday, mourners paid their respects to the 19 victims at a mass at the local football stadium in Bukoba.
Speaking at the service, Tanzanian Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said the government would cover the funeral expenses.
Earlier, he said that a large-scale investigation will be conducted to find out the causes of the plane crash.
The plane left the commercial capital Dar es Salaam on Sunday and was making a scheduled stop in Mwanza before it crashed at 08:50 local time (05:50 GMT) while approaching Bukoba airport.
The airport is closed until further notice.
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