24-26 December 1971
By Len Morrison
Protea Airways had an old 54-seat Douglas
DC-4 four engine aircraft registered as Swazi Air 3D-AAL standing
unused opposite the bottom hanger at Rand Airport.
It lay unused because there were very few
requirements for a large aircraft except on the South African
domestic routes. But SAA had a total monopoly and refused to allow
One day Rennies Travel approached me for
two large groups to be carried to-from the Seychelles to connect
with a cruise ship.
Seychelles anti-apartheid policy did not
allow SAA so I managed to get permission.
Our engineers spent days getting the DC-4
ready for the flight and ferrying it over to Jan Smuts.
With Captain ‘Lew’ Lewis at the helm, the
DC-4 departed Jan Smuts Airport, Johannesburg late evening on 24
December and landed in Majunga, western Madagascar early the
following morning to refuel. It then took off for Mahé,
But as the DC-4 was abeam Diego Suarez,
the northernmost point of Madagascar, the nearside port engine had a
runaway propeller. This immediately woke the dozing engineer Fricky
Fourie who managed to feather the prop and stop it from spinning off
and slicing through the cockpit.
Captain Lewis turned the aircraft around
and flew back to Majunga on three engines.
For some reason Captain Lewis was unable
to contact Johannesburg, so he decided to hire a Boeing 737 from Air
Madagascar to collect the passengers and fly them to the Seychelles.
The other group would have to find their own way back. He then flew
back empty to Johannesburg on the three good engines.
I was at Jan Smuts Airport with stairs
and ground staff to welcome the passengers when the DC-4 landed
exactly as scheduled on the evening of 26th December. As I climbed
up the stairs, the aircraft door opened but only the two
airhostesses appeared. I was astonished to find only the crew were
As a result, Protea paid Air Madagascar
more for the hire of the Boeing 737 than what Rennies had paid for
the DC-4. We were also sued for the airfares of the returning
After that, I re-wrote Protea’s charter
contract using an old NAC contract as a guide, incorporating ‘force
majeure’ that protected the company from such