‘I was in big trouble’: Pilot relives miracle crash landing
Soaring over the Northern Beaches on a beautiful day, flight instructor Horace Ho heard something no pilot ever wants to - silence.
Keeping his cool, Mr Ho calmly restarted the engine for the young trainee pilot sitting beside him in the ultralight plane. Ten seconds later it stopped again.
"At that moment I knew I was in big trouble," the 24-year-old said.
What followed was a miraculous crash-landing on a crowded sporting field. This week Mr Ho, still sporting a splint on his broken nose and serious bruising, was in good spirits as he returned to the scene of his crash.
"I remember hearing a big bang and then that's it," Mr Ho, of Chester Hill, said.
"Next thing I realised people were rushing towards me and a cricketer tried to save me and dragged me out from the plane."
On the afternoon of November 14, Mr Ho and his passenger took off from Bankstown Airport for a training flight. The plane was due to fly over Long Reef before heading back to the hangar.
But, as the plane soared over Cromer, the engine conked out.
Mr Ho remembers looking down and feeling relieved to see a sporting field, Cromer Park, below him.
"The moment I saw the field I thought: 'OK, I have got a chance'," he said. "Once I dropped down low, I saw all the kids and I realised this is going to be not as easy as I think.
"All I was praying was that all the kids down there could see me coming down so they could take precautions."
On the ground, dozens of young people were playing Saturday afternoon cricket. Greg Rollins was standing near the pitch when he spotted the light aircraft flying without a sound over the tree line.
"The first thing that went through my mind was I thought it was a remote control," the Cromer Cricket Club vice-president said.
"I really did because there was no sound and someone said: 'This is a real plane, it's not a remote control'. And then it came down."
Fearing the plane was about to hit a shelter providing shade to players - including his 16-year-old son - Mr Rollins started yelling: "Run, run, the plane is coming down!"
Realising he couldn't risk a landing on the crowded cricket pitch, Mr Ho calmly changed tack.
The pilot of four years spotted a black fence on the edge of the neighbouring sporting field and a grass slope.
"The plane is a small aircraft so not that fast," he said. "So, a little gentle slope and fence, I was pretty confident the aircraft could be brought to a stop."
His passenger was "calm but scared" as the plane hit the ground with a huge thud. It slid 10m before slamming into the fence and between two sandstone blocks.
While most ran in the opposite direction, Mr Rollins and three other men bolted towards the smoking plane.
Mr Rollins pulled a bloodied Mr Ho out of the plane and dragged him onto the grass slope in case the fuel ignited.
Meanwhile, the other cricketers pulled out the passenger, whose leg was broken and femur bone protruding through the skin.
Around the corner, paramedics Ellie Hayne and Vanessa Cox heard the call of "plane crash" over their radio. "We thought: 'Surely not, that's not real'," Ms Hayne said.
But when they rushed to Cromer Park they found the crumpled plane and two injured patients sprawled on the grass. Despite his injuries Ms Hayne said the passenger was alert, awake and smiling.
"He was still like: 'That was amazing, that was so fun' - not the crash part but he really looked forward to going on another flight, surprisingly," Ms Hayne said.
The seriously injured passenger was flown to Westmead Hospital.
Mr Ho, who was taken to Royal North Shore Hospital, walked away with a broken nose, three fractured vertebrae and some internal bleeding. It was 24 hours before word reached Mr Ho's parents in Hong Kong and another day before his girlfriend arrived from Western Australia. "My mum asked me to stop flying," he laughed.
"They were trying to hide it from my grandparents."
On Thursday, Mr Ho reunited with Mr Rollins and the paramedics.
"What they did to me that day to get me in a stable condition after the plane crash, so I didn't suffer any more injuries, was really good," he said. "A cricketer like Greg, he was just a bystander.
"To be honest I almost killed him and he still rushed over to help me and do whatever he can, first thing."
But the paramedics assured Mr Ho he was the hero.
"The crowd that was there that day and what could have happened, you're the hero here mate," Inspector Dave Stubbs said.
The close call has shaken Mr Ho but he said he will be back in the sky as soon as he gets medical clearance.
"Flying was my dream from when I was a little kid and an accident like this is not going to
stop me," he said.
Originally published as 'I was in big trouble': Pilot relives miracle crash landing