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Low-flying accident claims pilot’s life

Low-flying accident claims pilot’s life

A fatal wirestrike accident involving a Cessna 182L graphically illustrates the dangers of unauthorised low-level flying.

On 20 July 2014, the aircraft struck wires from a high voltage powerline while the pilot was conducting a private flight at low altitude near the rural township of Burrumbuttock, NSW.

Witnesses saw the aircraft flying low towards the township before it struck wires above a paddock on the outskirts of the town. The aircraft then rolled and impacted terrain. The wreckage came to rest a short distance from the Farmers Inn. Tragically, the pilot died in the accident.

The ATSB found no evidence of any engine or airframe defect that may have contributed to the accident.

Importantly, the pilot did not hold any approval to conduct low flying and had not received training to identify hazards or operating techniques for flight close to the ground. The evidence also indicated that the pilot had a history of unauthorised low flying.

The pilot was reported to be in good health with no issues that might have affected his ability to fly an aircraft. Despite this, the post mortem medical examination revealed a pre-existing medical condition that could have resulted in pilot incapacitation.

While it is possible the pilot may have been incapacitated immediately before the accident, the aircraft was flown at a level that provided little margin for error if an event had been experienced.  

Safety message

This fatal accident provides a clear message to pilots: don’t fly low if you’re not authorised, or don’t have to.

Flying below the regulated thresholds of 1,000 feet AGL over populated areas and 500 feet over non-populated areas provides very little margin for error if something goes wrong. Pilots who fly below this height without appropriate training and an operational reason to do so are exposing themselves and any passengers to an increased risk of striking hazards, such as electrical power lines, many of which are difficult to see from the cockpit of an aircraft in flight. 

Low-level flying is one of the ATSB’s top safety concerns for general aviation pilots. More information can be found on the ATSB’s SafetyWatch page or via the ATSB’s avoidable accident publication Low-level flying.  


Read investigation report   AO-2014-131

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Last update 14 December 2015