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On 31 July 2007, a Rockwell International Aero Commander 500-S, registered VH-YJB, departed Essendon Airport, Vic. on a business flight to Shepparton that was conducted at night under the instrument flight rules (IFR). On board were the pilot and one passenger. At 1958 Eastern Standard Time, while in the cruise at 7,000 ft above mean sea level in Class C controlled airspace, radar and radio contact with the aircraft was lost when it was about 25 NM (46 km) north-northeast of Essendon.

The wreckage was found in the area of the last radar position and both occupants had been fatally injured. At the time, special weather reports for severe turbulence and severe mountain waves were current for that area. Wind speeds on the ground were reported to be 50 kts. Calculations made using the recorded radar data and forecast wind showed that the aircraft had been in cruise flight at speeds probably greater than its published manoeuvring speed, prior to disappearing from radar.

The wreckage and its distribution pattern were consistent with an in-flight breakup during cruise flight. The breakup most likely resulted from an encounter with localised and intense turbulence, or from an elevator control input, or from a combination of both. As a result of its investigation, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau reissued the publication Mountain Wave Turbulence (available for download at www.atsb.gov.au), distributed the investigation report to all Australian operators of the Aero Commander aircraft, and issued a safety advisory notice to aircraft operators and pilots. That notice encouraged aircraft operators to review their procedures to ensure an appropriate awareness amongst operating personnel of the implications for aircraft performance of the combination of aircraft weights and speed, and of the ambient conditions; in particular, when flying in, or near areas of forecast severe turbulence.

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Download Preliminary Report
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Preliminary report released 12 October 2007

On 31 July 2007, a Rockwell Commander 500S, with a pilot and passenger on board, was making a night, instrument flight rules, business flight from Essendon Airport, Vic. to Shepparton. While cruising at 7,000 ft and approximately 25 NM (46 km) north-north-east of Essendon, the aircraft disappeared from radar. Attempts by the controller to contact the pilot were unsuccessful. Later that night the aircraft wreckage was found in timbered ranges near the last radar position. There were no survivors.

Wreckage was distributed over a considerable area and the outer wing sections and the tail had separated in flight. Subsequent wreckage reconstruction and examination of the fracture surfaces found no evidence of contributory fatigue cracking, pre-existing defects or structural corrosion.

At the time of the occurrence there was a north to north-westerly wind of 40 kts or greater in the area. The Bureau of Meteorology had issued two concurrent SIGMET warnings for the period of the flight. The first warned of severe mechanical turbulence over and south of the ranges, and the second warned of occasional severe mountain wave turbulence.

The Preliminary report contains factual information that has been obtained for the investigation to date and describes the focus of further investigations.

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General details
Date: 31 July 2007 Investigation status: Completed 
Time: 2000 EST  
Location   (show map):37 km NNE Melbourne Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
State: Victoria Occurrence type: In-flight break-up 
Release date: 09 November 2009 Occurrence class: Operational 
Report status: Final Occurrence category: Accident 
 Highest injury level: Fatal 
Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer: Rockwell International 
Aircraft model: 500 
Aircraft registration: VH-YJB 
Serial number: 3299 
Type of operation: Business 
Damage to aircraft: Destroyed 
Departure point:Essendon, Vic
Departure time:1946 EST
Destination:Shepparton, Vic
Crew details
RoleClass of licenceHours on typeHours total
Fatal: 1102

Safety Advisory Notice

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Last update 14 November 2018