Six senior South African Airways (SAA) pilots were missing from the sky this month, as all six retired simultaneously. Between them, Captains Fanie Coetzee, André Nagel, Elmer Leeuvennink, Ken Badenhorst, Gerry O’Neil and senior officer Louis Nel have more than 200 years of service.
All six are 63 years old, the age of retirement at SAA, and all six are good friends. Express spoke to the pilots, who live across Gauteng, and one in Cape Town.
“People keep making it a big deal. We’re just going on pension,” Nagel, an Alberton resident, laughed.
He knew he wanted to be a pilot when he saw the first Boeing 737 Lebombo delivered in South Africa when he was in Grade 11. Now he’s bought himself a caravan.
“I’ve already seen the world, now it’s time to see South Africa.”
Gerry O’Neil: “I always wanted to fly and had model aeroplanes when I was young,”
O’Neil, from Bronkhorstspruit, flew for SAA for 44 years.
“I loved visiting Frankfurt. The beer and food were wonderful and I have the waistline to prove it.”
Coetzee from Cape Town said his favourite places to visit were America and Europe.
For Badenhorst from Pretoria, Hong Kong, Germany and Australia were the highlights of his trips.
“What am I going to do now that I’m retired? Sleep,” he laughed. “No, I have my hobbies like travelling, gardening and beekeeping.”
When the time came to sign up for military service, Leeuvennink from Pretoria knew he wanted to be in the air force. He worked for SAA for 38 years when his service ended.
“This career is definitely worth it. You’ll never become rich, but your office changes every day.”
Perhaps this is why Nel from Benoni isn’t ready to hang up his pilot’s cap just yet. He will continue to fly for a different company.
“I love it because you see the world and no day is the same.”
And what will the retirees miss most about their days as pilots? All six answered this question exactly the same: the camaraderie.
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