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Tragic accident reminder to be well informed about weather conditions

 

 

View from an aircraft in the group about 40 km south-east Cape Ford

The ATSB is warning pilots of the dangers of flying over water in low visibility conditions and encouraging pilots to access detailed weather briefings, after four family members died when their aircraft collided with water.

The accident occurred on 1 April 2013, 150 km south-west of Darwin, Northern Territory. A group of pilots were intending to fly various light aircraft from Bullo River homestead to Emkaytee, a private airstrip near Darwin. Their departure was delayed, however, by low cloud. When the group accessed aviation forecasts and weather radar images, they saw that there were isolated thunderstorms, low cloud and rain in the area.

By lunchtime, the weather had lifted at Bullo River, and the weather radar images were indicating improvement along the route. All of the pilots departed between 1300 and 1500, some electing to track via the coast and the rest flying in a more direct route. Among the aircraft was a Cessna 210, carrying a pilot and three family members. That plane would track via the coast.

The group of pilots kept in contact by radio, communicating on a discrete frequency. At about 1510, the pilot of the Cessna 210 reported that he was approaching Cape Ford and the weather ahead was gloomy. He did not sound distressed and at the time no importance was attached to the call. However, that was the last time anyone heard from the Cessna 210.

When the Cessna 210 did not arrive at Emkaytee, search and rescue authorities were notified and some pilots from the group departed in a few aircraft to search the area where the pilot last reported and to check the airstrips in the area.

During the flight from Bullo River to Emkaytee, the pilot continued to track along the planned coastal route towards a thunderstorm, probably encountering conditions such as low cloud, reduced visibility and turbulence, and as a result of one or more of those factors the aircraft descended and collided with water.

Searching in the Cape Ford area was not possible due to continuing storm activity, and fading light forced the return of the search aircraft. The search resumed the next morning until some bodies and a small amount of wreckage from the aircraft were found on the southern part of Anson Bay, about 10 km south-east of Cape Ford. There were no survivors.

The ATSB investigation found that, as the pilot tracked along the planned coastal route, he would have been flying towards a thunderstorm. He would probably have encountered conditions such as low cloud, reduced visibility and turbulence. As a result of one or more of those factors, the aircraft descended and collided with water.

The ATSB is warning pilots of the dangers of flying over water in low visibility conditions and encouraging pilots to access detailed weather briefings, after four family members died when their aircraft collided with water.

When flying in marginal weather conditions, it can be advantageous to track visually via a coastal route. Navigation may be easier, and such a route can ensure an absence of elevated terrain. However, flying over water can mean an increased risk of spatial disorientation when confronted with drastically reduced visibility.

In situations where poor weather is forecast, the ATSB urges pilots to access the Bureau of Meteorology detailed weather briefings to assist with understanding the conditions at the time as well as the immediate trend.

Read the ATSB investigation report AO-2013-063.

Related: Turbulence
 
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Last update 19 March 2014