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The ATSB's final aviation investigation report into a fatal fire-bombing accident south of Cootamundra last year found that the pilot lost control of the aircraft during a low altitude turn and that his lack of experience on the modified Dromader turbine-engined aircraft may have been a contributing factor.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau notes that this was only the second fatal accident involving a fixed-wing aircraft engaged in fire-bombing operations in Australia since they commenced in the early 1960s, despite the high risks associated with that type of flying.

In contrast to frequently experienced severe conditions, this accident on 16 February 2006 occurred in warm to mild weather with good visibility, gentle winds, and over relatively benign terrain.

The deceased pilot was an experienced agricultural pilot with previous fire-bombing experience. Although he had considerable flying experience on radial-engine Dromader aircraft, and in other turbine agricultural aircraft, his total flying experience in the modified turbine Dromader was only 4.7 hours. Prior to commencing duty two days previously, the pilot had not flown fire bombing operations for three years.

The report concluded that the pilots limited familiarity with the handling characteristics of the modified and heavily-loaded aircraft might not have allowed adequate recognition of an impending stall. The pilot had not jettisoned the load of retardant and the aircraft stalled while the aircraft was being manoeuvred at a height that did not permit recovery before colliding with the ground. The possibility that the pilot was distracted by either a problem with the operation of the fire doors or some other activity could not be determined.

Subsequently, the State fire authority reviewed the minimum pilot experience levels for aerial fire suppression. That review included more accurately reporting a pilots experience on specific aircraft types to ensure minimum requirements were met prior to being rostered for fire-bombing operations and also introduced minimum recency requirements.

Copies of the report can be downloaded from the ATSBs internet site at www.atsb.gov.au

Media contact: 1800 020 616
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Last update 01 April 2011