Aviation chiefs say stadium show was not authorised.
Power-glider pilot ‘had warned of safety fears’
ABU DHABI // The pilot of a powered glider that crashed into a stadium packed with football fans had warned organisers that the aerial display was dangerous, his brother said yesterday.
And an initial investigation by the General Civil Aviation Authority has found that the show was unauthorised and poorly planned.
“There also appears to have been no definitive risk assessment for hazards and obstacles, which is a standard aerial display planning procedure,” the authority said.
Nine people were hurt when one of two powered gliders entertaining the crowd before the Al Ain-Al Wahda derby on Wednesday ploughed into spectators at Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium in Al Ain.
The pilot, Khaled Youssef, broke a leg, fractured a pelvis and punctured a lung. He underwent surgery and is recovering at Al Ain Hospital. Eight spectators sustained minor injuries.
“The club requested that he throw confetti on the crowd,” said Mr Youssef’s brother, Abdulaziz. “The glider isn’t stable, he tried to tell them, but they wouldn’t be convinced.”
Mr Youssef made several attempts to throw the confetti before his craft became entangled with decorative balloons, causing him to lose control and crash. He told his brother there were no balloons at the stadium when he surveyed it 10 days before, and again at 5pm on the day of the match.
“The coordination of the club is responsible,” said Abdulaziz.
The GCAA said the show’s organisers bypassed the process for authorising aerobatic flights. They should have sought approval from Abu Dhabi Department of Civil Aviation and obtained a No Objection Letter from the GCAA.
The Al Ain chief executive Carlo Nohra argued that this was not the responsibility of only the football club. “Regardless of whether the club applied and did or did not receive a licence to carry out this activity, a pilot has an obligation, equally, to ensure that such a licence is granted,” he said.
“It is clear that the framework for regulations for this … activity needs to be reviewed, also.”
The Al Ain fan society chairman Mohammed Al Dhaheri, who helped to organise the show, said he believed he needed authorisation only from the police and Al Ain airport, which he obtained. No one told him they needed further approval.
The investigation continues, but the show appears to have broken at least two aviation laws: that pilots not drop or spray anything from an aircraft “except under conditions prescribed by the GCAA”, and that pilots on aerobatic flights should not fly over “an open-air assembly of persons”.
GCAA officials said they established a committee last year to review the use of powered gliders. The aircraft – flexible wings with engines attached – are also called paramotors.
“The Paramotor Committee will assess all of the current regulations applicable to light sport aviation operation and determine if additional regulated framework for the operation of these aircraft is required,” the authority said.
Johan Vercruyssen, chief flight instructor for paramotors at Jazirah Aviation Club, welcomed the idea “with open arms”.
“Finally,” he said. “That was the big purpose of me starting the training in the country here: to make it a safe sport here, so people will respect the rules. You can only do this when the authorities cooperate. We have approached them many times before.”
Another pilot said they often struggled to obtain authorisation for paramotor displays, and there was a lack of responsiveness from the GCAA.
“The GCAA will never give him a yes and will never give him a no, because the regulation doesn’t exist,” the pilot said. “They don’t answer, they don’t answer, they don’t answer – until the time is over.”
A GCAA spokeswoman said she would not be able to respond until Tuesday to questions about specific rules for paramotors. The authority was not seeking to apportion blame or liability over the crash, she said. “The main purpose of the investigation is to avoid future accidents and to ensure safety.”
Khaled Youssef is a member of the UAE Armed Forces and an experienced skydiver. He has competed in several local competitions and has performed numerous times in aerial displays for the military.
“He is one of the famous people in the UAE army for sky diving,” said his fiancée. “He doesn’t want to remember the accident, but he looks to God to start flying again, because he is a sportsman.”