British grandmother critically injured in glider crash hailed a hero after avoiding a house with children inside

Richard Shears

Last updated at 2:40 PM on 2nd January 2012

An 80-year-old British grandmother was critically injured in a solo flight in Australia yesterday as she swerved to avoid a house with children in it.

Mary Neighbour was said to be in a serious condition in a Melbourne hospital after the glider she was flying became caught in a down draught, forcing her to turn sharply and avoid the house

As a result the glider smashed into the ground, leaving Mrs Neighbour – described by a gliding official near Melbourne as ‘a tough old bird and a hero’ – with internal injuries.

Mary Neighbour was airlifted to The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, where she is suffering life-threatening injuries

Mary Neighbour was airlifted to The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, where she is suffering life-threatening injuries

Mrs Neighbour arriving at hospital after the glider crash in northern Victoria

Mrs Neighbour arriving at hospital after the glider crash in northern Victoria

Fighting for her life: Mary Neighbour was described 'a tough old bird and a hero'

Fighting for her life: Mary Neighbour was described ‘a tough old bird and a hero’

John Switala, spokesman for the Gliding Club of Victoria, said when Mrs Neighbour realised she was going to crash into a house, where a mother and at least two children were standing on the porch, she turned sharply, pirouetting the wing on the ground.

‘The way the glider was descending, it was probably quite possible she could’ve hit the house – and we’re guessing she made this behaviour to avoid doing that and that’s when she hit the ground,’ said Mr Switala.

He described her as an experienced pilot who has been flying for more than 35 years.

Mrs Neighbour suffered abdominal and chest injuries in the crash, which, said experts who saw it happen, she ‘handled very well’.

‘She was in a situation heading straight for a house with occupants there,’ said Mr Peter Gray, from the Australian Gliding Federation.

‘She made the right decision to turn, which meant hitting the ground.’

Mrs Neighbour was flying with a club in Benalla, west of Melbourne.

‘Mary and her husband Ted spend about three to four months of the summer with us at Benalla and they fly their glider – one day Mary flies it, one day Ted flies it,’ said Mr Switala.

‘She’s what we call a tough old bird. But she’s a very experienced, very competent, very safe pilot.’

In a tribute to his wife’ flying experience, Ted Neighbour wrote in the Benalla Gliding Club’s magazine that he wondered how many female pilots are still flying in their 80s.

‘Mary was 80 on the 13th July and following her determination to do so did indeed fly on that date at our usual destination of Fuentemilanos in Spain, where we spend four weeks a year amongst a gathering of pilots, all men, from many countries in Europe.’

He said that his wife had gone solo in 1962 and in the last 12 years of those 49 years had flown in numerous countries as a member of the British Gliding Association.

She has flown in Finland, France, the U.S., New Zealand and Spain – as well as Australia.

Mr Neighbour said his wife had flown some 2,500 hours and had added up countless thousands of cross country miles – and was still counting.

She has flown more than 40 different gliders in her career. As a special tribute to her when she flew on her 80th birthday, the Spanish club presented her with a diploma.

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Why are you hailed a hero because you avoid landing into a house? Landing into a house is probably more likely to kill you than not landing into a house, so simply self preservation means you try and avoid it. Nothing to do with being a hero.

Frank, Dublin – what on earth has age got to do with ANYTHING?? Don’t be so patronising. This could happen to absolutely anyone, any age, any sex.
And again, to Frank – I don’t think she is counting herself lucky AT ALL right now.
and Matt, uk – the pilot may have made an error – but she corrected it in time to avoid hurting anyone else.
Where is your sympathy and empathy both of you??? I’m totally disgusted by your lack of humanity.
I really hope she recovers and though I’m not a praying person, she’ll be in my thoughts.

I agree with Matt, I’m also an experienced glider pilot and gliders down just plummet to the ground in down draughts. To actually notice the occupants of a house whether man, woman, child or hippo in a high workload situation – such as being in a glider at low level is totally absurd. If she managed to take avoiding action at all, the decision would be to avoid hitting a large brick thing that would hurt a lot and look for a relatively unobstructed area to crash into! More likely she spun in from low level. Pilot error. Definitely time to fly with a safety pilot.

Well done ; she was a heroine, though, not a hero (which is male )

80………solo………glider……….WOW. Get well soon Mary.

she can count herself lucky that it didn’t explode.

Why was an 80yo woman allowed fly an aircraft in the first place.

As a glider pilot of many years, you don’t just get thrown to the ground in down drafts… Unless your already to low. This is clearly pilot error and she’s lucky not to have killed herself or anyone else. Time she started flying with a safety pilot.

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