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Summary

Summary

On 7 November 2008, a Piper Aircraft Corp. PA-31-350 Chieftain, registered VH-OPC, was being operated on a private flight under the instrument flight rules from Moorabbin Airport, Vic. to Port Macquarie via Bathurst, NSW. On board the aircraft were the owner-pilot and three passengers.

The flight from Moorabbin to Bathurst was conducted in accordance with the pilot's flight plan and a review of recorded air traffic control data and communications did not reveal any problems during that flight. After refuelling at Bathurst Airport, the pilot departed from runway 35 for Port Macquarie in dark-night conditions with light rain in the area. At about 2024, some 2½ minutes after reporting airborne, residents of Forest Grove to the north of Bathurst Airport, heard a sudden loud noise from an aircraft at low altitude. Shortly after, there was the sound of an explosion and the glow of a fire. The aircraft was found to have impacted terrain resulting in serious damage to the aircraft. The four occupants were fatally injured.

The aircraft had impacted the ground upright, slightly right wing low, at a descent angle greater than 20°. The wreckage trail, oriented on a ground track of 165° M, extended for about 300 m. Almost all of the major aircraft parts were seriously impact and fire damaged. The propellers indicated high rotational energy. The landing gear and wing flaps were retracted.

Due to fire and impact damage, and limited information about the sequence of events after takeoff, the evidence available to the investigation was limited. There were no indicators of aircraft malfunction or pilot impairment prior to the accident. After extensive examination, the investigation found there was no evidence of any aircraft unserviceability and that airworthiness was not likely to have been a contributing factor in the accident. The investigation was unable to establish why the aircraft collided with terrain; however, pilot spatial disorientation or pilot incapacitation could not be discounted.

 
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