The ATSB has released a preliminary report from its ongoing investigation into a fatal accident involving an Air Tractor AT-400 aerial application aircraft during spraying operations west of Moree, New South Wales, on 4 December 2021.
The report details factual information from the investigation’s early evidence collection phase and describes the aircraft’s operations conducting aerial spraying from an airstrip on a property 80 km west-south-west of Moree.
Over a period of approximately 5 hours, the aircraft took off from and landed at the airstrip, as the pilot sprayed ten hopper loads of chemical on designated areas of the property. These were sprayed using a racetrack pattern.
At 1126, the aircraft departed with the 11th load to spray an area adjacent to the property’s eastern boundary. During this flight the pilot used a back-to-back pattern, conducting a ‘procedure turn’ to reposition the aircraft on the reciprocal heading for the next spray run.
After the aircraft had completed the fourth parallel run, a witness located in the neighbouring paddock observed the aircraft enter a right procedure turn above trees.
“During the turn, the aircraft was observed to descend rapidly, right-wing down, and disappear behind the trees. The witness reported seeing a black plume of smoke rise almost immediately afterwards,” ATSB Director Transport Safety Dr Stuart Godley said.
The aircraft wreckage was subsequently located at the southern end of a stand of trees. The pilot had sustained fatal injuries and the aircraft was destroyed.
“ATSB transport safety investigators’ examination of the accident site found that the aircraft collided with terrain upright, in a slight nose down and right wing down attitude,” Dr Godley said.
“There were no powerlines in the area and there was no evidence of tree or bird strike.”
Examination of the damage to the engine and propeller blades was consistent with the engine producing power at impact. Where possible, investigators established continuity of the flight controls.
Dr Godley noted the ATSB’s preliminary report does not include any safety findings or analysis, which will be detailed in the investigation’s final report.
“As the investigation continues, the ATSB will examine electronic components recovered from the accident site, and review the pilot’s qualifications and experience, weather conditions, operational documentation and relevant regulations, and accident survivability aspects,” he said.
“Should a critical safety issue be identified at any time during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties so appropriate and timely safety action can be taken.”Last update 19 January 2022