Page last updated at 18:31 GMT, Saturday, 24 October 2009 19:31 UK

'Hero' pilot dies in Caribbean crash

Capt Robert Mansell
Capt Robert Mansell (Pic courtesy of St Maarten Island

A British pilot has been hailed a hero after he died while saving his nine passengers by ditching his plane into the Caribbean sea.

Robert Mansell, 32, originally from Knowle, West Midlands, had used his skills as a "good pilot" to save lives, said his employers Divi Divi Air.

He was flying between the south Caribbean islands of Curacao and Bonaire on Wednesday when he crashed.

All nine passengers escaped the sinking plane, but the pilot's body is missing.

Captain Mansell was five minutes short of the destination when he was forced to ditch the twin-engine Britten-Norman Islander.

The passengers escaped the sinking aircraft, but he was still strapped into his seat as it disappeared into waters reported to be 150 metres deep.

Other pilots wouldn't have known what to do but he landed the aircraft so that everyone could get out safely
Simon Janzen, Divi Divi Air

Colleagues at Divi Divi Air are said to be devastated by his death, describing him as a highly respected and qualified flyer.

Simon Janzen, from the company, said: "He's a hero. All the passengers survived and he is the only one missing. If he wasn't a good pilot, he couldn't have ditched it so everyone could be saved.

"Other pilots wouldn't have known what to do but he landed the aircraft so that everyone could get out safely."

The crash happened after the right engine of the plane failed, and Capt Mansell made a mayday call before ditching, he added.

Divi Divi Air Managing Director Germaine Ritchie said the local civil aviation authority were conducting a "thorough investigation" into the accident.

She said passengers had informed her that the pilot was "performing beyond what is expected of a person", had been "calm throughout the entire flight" and was "doing his utmost to save those on board".

She added that Capt Mansell was a meticulous pilot who had an "excellent track record" and was "very much respected" among his peers.

Tributes on a local news website, the St Maarten Island Time, have described Capt Mansell as a "true hero" for saving the passengers.

Capt Mansell worked for Winair before moving to work for Avion di Divi Divi.

Divi Divi Air, established in 2001 on the island of Curacao, operates up to nine flights a day between Caribbean islands.

Bonaire, which along with Curacao is part of the Netherlands Antilles, lies about 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela.

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