Suffolk couple save fliers

A COUPLE from Suffolk have been hailed as “angels” after they saved the lives of two charity workers whose light aircraft plunged into the Atlantic Ocean following an engine failure.

A COUPLE from Suffolk have been hailed as “angels” after they saved the lives of two charity workers whose light aircraft plunged into the Atlantic Ocean following an engine failure.

Richard Ballam and Sue Powell were sailing in their yacht Impetuous from Palm Beach, Florida, to Chub Cay in the Bahamas when the Cessna 208 lost power and went down near to Andros Island.

The two pilots of the craft, who were working for Agape Flights Inc - a missionary organisation that regularly delivers supplies to the Dominican Republic and Haiti - were miraculously unhurt.

The men, who were heading for South Florida, were able to struggle free of the plane and swim to safety.

Moments later they were picked up by Mr Ballam, from Bury St Edmunds, and Ms Powell, who lives in Woodbridge.

In an e-mail sent after the crash the couple told friends and relatives: “It [the aircraft] flipped upside down and broke up leaving wreckage and two swimmers.

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“We were able to deploy our Lifesling and pick up the two pilots...unharmed. No one else on board. We called for assistance and transferred them to a fast sports boat to get them quickly to Chub Cay and to call off the air sea rescue they had called for.

“We were told today they were on missionary work from Palm Beach, so someone was looking out for them.”

The rescued men were later named by US TV as missionaries Rocky Miller and Paolo Costa, who had been delivering supplies to victims of Hurricane Noel.

Mr Miller told a US TV station: “We were probably about 45 minutes out and all at once everything just stopped.

“About 2,500ft we knew we were going to have to put in the water so we set up for a final glide that would put us about a 100ft from this sail boat.

Mr Costa added: “It is a miracle that we are alive because when the aircraft went over it was so fast and so disorienting. It was a near death experience. I do believe there were some angels dispatched for us.”

Mr Ballam, 65, a retired solicitor, is an extremely experienced yachtsman and in his youth spent time sailing around the world.

His sister, Mary Gaskin, a retired teacher who lives in Westerfield Road, Ipswich, said he has always had a love of the water and many years ago was part of a team that raced a yacht from America to Norway as part of King Olaf's birthday celebrations.

“Richard has had a boat in Florida for three or four years, although the one they have at the moment is only a year old,” she said. “He is extremely experienced and has always enjoyed sailing - he's had a boat on the Deben for years and years.

“He knows what he's doing. I just think that those pilots were extremely lucky that Richard and Sue happened to be sailing nearby.”

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