Aviation safety investigations & reports

Fuel Starvation, 2.4 km north-west of Bathurst Island Aerodrome, VH-JDJ

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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On 1 June 2006, at about 0848 Central Standard Time, a Beech Aircraft Corp A36 Bonanza aircraft, registered VH-JDJ, was approaching to land at Bathurst Island aerodrome.

Air traffic services radar data recorded the aircraft overflying the aerodrome and that the pilot joined the circuit on left downwind for a landing on runway 15. The aircraft impacted terrain 2.4 km north-west of the aerodrome. The pilot, who was the sole occupant of the aircraft, sustained fatal injuries.

The aircraft was assessed as being intact prior to the impact with terrain and no anomaly was identified with the aircraft that could have affected its normal operation.

Data recovered from an onboard engine data recording system was consistent with an interruption of the fuel flow and the loss of engine power about 42 seconds before impact. The pilot may have been attempting to perform an emergency landing to a nearby clearing when control of the aircraft was lost.

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Preliminary report released 7 August 2006

On 1 June 2006, at about 07011 Central Standard Time2, a Beech Aircraft Corp. A36 (Bonanza) aircraft, registered VH-JDJ, departed Kununurra, WA on a private category visual flight rules (VFR) flight to Bathurst Island, NT. The flight was for the pilot, who was the sole aircraft occupant, to visit clients in regional and remote areas of the country.

At about 0900, an aircraft advised air traffic services (ATS) of a radio distress beacon transmitting on the 121.5 MHz distress frequency. That beacon transmission was confirmed at 0912, when a COSPAS-SARSAT satellite download to an AusSAR3 local user terminal, indicated that a radio distress beacon was transmitting in the vicinity of Bathurst Island.

The Rescue Coordination Centre at AusSAR coordinated the search for the source of the distress beacon transmission. A search aircraft subsequently located aircraft wreckage approximately 1.3 NM north-west of the Bathurst Island aerodrome. The ground party that located the wreckage determined that the pilot had sustained fatal injuries. There was no fire.

A review of ATS recorded radar data identified a VFR aircraft on the direct track between Kununurra and Bathurst Island at an altitude of 5,500 ft4 above mean sea level (AMSL). The aircraft commenced descent from cruise altitude about 30 NM from the aerodrome and, at 0846, arrived overhead at an altitude of 1,400 ft. That was, about 1 hour 45 minutes after the Bonanza departed Kununurra. The recorded radar track was consistent with the aircraft joining the circuit mid-downwind for a landing on runway 15.

The aircraft continued downwind and commenced decent from 1,000 ft just prior to turning onto the base leg of the circuit. The aircraft then turned onto a long final approach for runway 15. The last valid radar return was received at 0848 at an altitude of 600 ft.

The aircraft wreckage was located slightly left of the extended runway 15 centreline, approximately 1,200 m north-west of the runway threshold.

Figure 1 depicts the aircraft's recorded radar position during the final stages of the flight.

Figure 1: Bathurst Island aerodrome, recorded radar track and location of aircraft wreckage

figure 1

Examination of the wreckage indicated that the aircraft had impacted terrain in a left wing-low, steep nose-down attitude. The accident site was located in scrub-type terrain, moderately populated with trees approximately 10 to 20 m in height (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Accident site and surrounds

figure 2

The aircraft collided with the upper branches of a tree during the final stages of the decent. Damage to the foliage was consistent with the aircraft descending steeply as it approached the ground. All aircraft components were accounted for at the accident site, and the aircraft was assessed as being intact prior to impact. The landing gear was down and the wing flaps were retracted (up position) at that time. The propeller sustained relatively minor damage and the hub of the propeller remained intact.

There was no evidence of bird strike or of a collision with any other object prior to the final impact sequence.

The aircraft's Continental IO-520 engine had accumulated approximately 62 hours time in service since its last overhaul. The engine was recovered from the accident site for further examination. That examination found no evidence of catastrophic failure of any of the engine's components. The engine's ignition system was tested and found to be capable of normal operation. The fuel-injection nozzles for each cylinder were clear of any obstruction and capable of normal operation.

The aircraft was equipped with an EDM 700 engine data monitoring system that monitored a number of parameters of the engine operation. That instrument was recovered for further examination.

The aircraft was equipped with main and auxiliary fuel tanks. The main fuel tanks were located in each wing and each had a capacity of 140 litres (L) useable fuel. The auxiliary tanks were located on the tip of each wing and each had a capacity of 75 L. The cockpit fuel selector had 5 positions: 'OFF', 'L. MAIN', 'R. MAIN', 'R. TIP' and 'L. TIP'. The auxiliary tanks were also equipped with a tank cross feed and an 'ON' 'OFF' cross-feed selector.

During the impact sequence, the right auxiliary fuel tank detached from the right wing tip. Although the tank was intact, it did not contain a significant quantity of fuel. The left auxiliary fuel tank remained attached to the left wing tip. Although that tank sustained impact damage, it remained substantially intact and did not contain a significant quantity of fuel.

The left main tank was intact. Approximately 65 L of fuel was recovered from that tank and a sample was retained for testing. The right main tank was breached along the leading edge of the wing and the fuel line from that tank sustained impact-related damage and was fractured in the vicinity of the wing root5. All of the fuel tank caps were secure and there was no evidence that any fuel had been lost overboard during flight.

The aircraft fuel selector was found in the R. TIP position and the cross feed for the auxiliary tank was found in the OFF position. A separate fuel gauge was capable of indicating the quantity of fuel in the aircraft's tip tanks. A switch located beside that gauge allowed the pilot to display the quantity of fuel in either of the tip tanks. That switch was found in the L. TIP position. A number of components from the aircraft's fuel system were recovered for further examination/testing. Those components included the cockpit fuel selector and selector valve, cockpit fuel quantity gauges and the fuel tank float and sender units.

The aircraft was last refuelled at Halls Creek on 30 May 2006. Fuel company records indicated that one of the aircraft's swipe cards was used to purchase 268 L of aviation gasoline. Other aircraft had also refuelled from the same fuel source that day. The aircraft's records indicated that, at the time of the accident, the Bonanza had operated approximately 3.6 hours since refuelling at Halls Creek. Flight planning documents recovered at the accident site indicated that, when fully fuelled, the pilot had planned the aircraft's endurance as 7.3 hours.

A number of local residents and other pilots reported that visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed in the vicinity of Bathurst Island at the time of the accident.

The pilot held an unrestricted Private Pilot (Aeroplane) Licence and had accumulated approximately 526 hours total aeronautical experience.

The investigation is continuing and will include the:

  • examination of the engine data monitoring equipment
  • testing of recovered components
  • review of operational factors associated with the flight.

  1. First light at Kununurra on 1 June was 0652 CST (0522 Western Standard Time).
  2. The 24-hour clock is used in this report to describe the local time of day, Central Standard Time (CST), as particular events occurred. Central Standard Time was Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) + 9.5 hours.
  3. Australian Search and Rescue - in general terms, AusSAR coordinates the response to aviation SAR incidents across Australia.
  4. Altitude information is encoded by the aircraft's radar transponder to the nearest 100 ft.
  5. During the subsequent salvage of aircraft components on behalf of the insurance company, a quantity of about 20 L of fuel was reported to have drained from the right main tank.
General details
Date: 01 June 2006   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 08:48    
Location   (show map): 2.4km N Bathurst Island, Aero.    
State: Northern Territory   Occurrence type: Fuel starvation  
Release date: 08 June 2007   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Fatal  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Beech Aircraft Corp  
Aircraft model 36  
Aircraft registration VH-JDJ  
Serial number E-1448  
Type of operation Private  
Damage to aircraft Destroyed  
Departure point Kununurra WA  
Departure time 0531  
Destination Bathurst Island NT  
Crew details
Role Class of licence Hours on type Hours total
Pilot-in-Command Private 440.9 539
  Crew Passenger Ground Total
Fatal: 1 0 0 1
Total: 1 0 0 1
Last update 18 April 2018