Aviation safety investigations & reports

Cessna Aircraft Company U206A, VH-XGR, Near Sweers Island, Gulf of Carpentaria, NT, 24 November 1999

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


The pilot, who was based at Mornington Island, was tasked to convey passengers from Mornington Island to Normanton in Cessna 206 registered VH-XGR. The pilot's intended track would have resulted in the aircraft overflying Bentinck Island, south-east of Mornington Island.

The flight departed at about 0915. Other pilots operating aircraft in the area reported that the weather conditions were not favourable for visual flight to the south of Mornington Island, but were acceptable to the north. Rain started to fall when XGR taxied for departure. After a takeoff to the east the aircraft was observed to turn left and set course from overhead the airstrip.

Soon after departure the pilot was advised by the pilot of an aircraft maintaining 5,500 ft, and tracking for Karumba that the weather conditions enroute were a line of light showers.

At 0929 a pilot tracking from Doomadgee to Bentinck Island in a Cessna 206 operated by the same company as the accident aircraft was advised by the company through Brisbane Flight Service that visibility at Bentinck Island had reduced to 1,000 m in rain. That pilot subsequently reported in the circuit area at Bentinck Island at 0949.

At 0935, after obtaining the current position of the pilot tracking to Bentinck Island, the pilot of XGR reported that he was now diverting to Burketown, passing 3,500 ft on climb to 5,500 ft. The two pilots then changed to a company frequency. No further report from the pilot of XGR was recorded.

The aircraft did not arrive at either Burketown or Normanton. A subsequent search found articles, identified as being from XGR, in the water to the south of Bentinck Island. The damage sustained by these articles was consistent with the aircraft having struck the water at high speed.

Examination of recorded weather radar data available from a radar site at Mornington Island indicated a band of weather extending from just south of Mornington Island to north of Bentinck Island, and beyond. To conduct the flight as intended the pilot would have been required to negotiate this weather. Pilots who had arrived at Mornington Island before the departure of XGR reported that the cloud did not contain any thunderstorm formations. Conditions under the cloud were assessed as not suitable for VFR flight due to reduced visibility in rain.

The pilot was appropriately qualified and met the recent experience requirements to conduct the flight. His medical history did not indicate any condition that may have led to incapacitation. He had obtained a command multi-engine instrument rating nine months before the accident flight, but had not since conducted a flight in instrument meteorological conditions and had only flown a limited number of hours in simulated instrument flight conditions.

The aircraft was not certified to operate in instrument meteorological conditions and was not fitted with an autopilot, nor was it required to be. Although it was equipped with appropriate instrumentation, there was no requirement that they be maintained to instrument flight standards. No evidence was found to indicate that the aircraft was other than serviceable for flight in visual meteorological conditions.

Following an unsuccessful search for the aircraft, the investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau was terminated. At that time, in the absence of sufficient aircraft material to enable a comprehensive examination, it was not possible to determine the factors that led to the accident.

In late 2001, Queensland Police sent the ATSB photographs and items of wreckage recovered from an area on the seabed near Sweers Island, east of Bentinck Island. Each photograph was examined and image enhancement techniques were employed to assist with closer inspection. On 8 March 2002, Queensland Police sent the ATSB a video of aircraft wreckage taken underwater at the accident site.

The items of wreckage sent to the ATSB's engineering laboratory for examination, and the wreckage viewed on photographs and video, were consistent with having originated from a Cessna 206 aircraft. While positive identification of the aircraft VH-XGR was not possible, on the balance of probability it is likely that the wreckage was that of VH-XGR.

The examination of the attitude indicator revealed that the aircraft impacted the water at an angle of bank of 135 degrees right-wing down (45 degrees inverted) and 35 degree nose-down attitude. That was consistent with the structural damage viewed on the photographs taken by the police.

The damage to the airframe components and propeller blades, and the evidence from the attitude indicator were consistent with a high velocity impact with the water following a loss of control of the aircraft. This damage signature has been evident in numerous accidents investigated by the Bureau where an aircraft has crashed following flight from visual into non-visual meteorological conditions. Scenarios which have led to similar accidents have included where the pilot was either not trained for such flight operations, or had limited or no recent experience in instrument flight conditions, or the aircraft was not appropriately instrumented.

The pilot's limited experience in instrument flight conditions may have been insufficient to prevent a loss of aircraft control had he inadvertently entered an area of low visibility in the Sweers Island area.

The ATSB's engineering report is available above in the Technical Analysis Report tab.

Technical Analysis Report

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Examination of Aircraft Wreckage Cessna Aircraft Co. U206A, VH-XGR

Executive Summary

The partial wreckage of a Cessna 206 aircraft was recovered from an area in the Gulf of Carpentaria, near where an aircraft of this type disappeared on 24-November 1999 (ATSB Occurrence number 199905562).

Photographs and video footage of the wreckage were supplied to the ATSB and reviewed with a view to gathering further detail regarding the accident. The ATSB bsubsequently requested that the propeller and attitude indicator instrument from the aircraft be shipped to the bureaus Canberra laboratories for further study and analysis. On the basis of damage to several aircraft articles recovered during the initial search, the original investigation concluded that the aircraft had impacted the water at high speed. The findings of the recent study concurred with this. From the attitude indicator and propeller it was possible to conclude with good probability that the aircraft impacted the water at high speed in an uncontrolled, inverted attitude. Evidence indicated that the propeller was rotating at impact, although it was not possible to determine whether the engine was developing power.

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[Download  PDF: 4.77MB]
General details
Date: 24 November 1999   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 0930 hours EST    
Location   (show map): Near Sweers Island, Gulf of Carpentaria    
State: Queensland   Occurrence type: VFR into IMC  
Release date: 18 April 2002   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Fatal  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Cessna Aircraft Company  
Aircraft model 206  
Aircraft registration VH-XGR  
Serial number U2060610  
Type of operation Charter  
Damage to aircraft Destroyed  
Departure point Mornington Island, QLD  
Departure time 0915 hours EST  
Destination Normanton, QLD  
Crew details
Role Class of licence Hours on type Hours total
Pilot-in-Command Commercial 356.5 618
  Crew Passenger Ground Total
Fatal: 1 5 0 6
Total: 1 5 0 6
Last update 13 May 2014