On 30 March 2011, a Piper Saratoga PA-32R-301T aircraft, registered VH-LKI, with a pilot and five passengers on board was returning to Moree Airport from Brewarrina Airport, New South Wales under the night Visual Flight Rules (NVFR).
The aircraft flew overhead the airport at about 2000 Eastern Daylight-saving Time before the pilot conducted a left circuit for landing on runway 19. Witnesses observed the aircraft on a low approach path as it flew toward the runway during the final approach leg of the circuit. The aircraft contacted trees and collided with level terrain about 550 m short of the runway 19 threshold.
The pilot and three passengers were fatally injured. Two other passengers, who were seated toward the rear of the aircraft, were seriously injured. The aircraft was seriously damaged by the impact forces.
The investigation did not identify any organisational or systemic issues that might adversely affect the future safety of aviation operations. However, the pilot did not satisfy the recency requirements of his NVFR rating and the aircraft's take-off weight was in excess of the maximum allowable for the aircraft.
In addition, the aircraft's centre of gravity was probably outside that specified in the aircraft flight manual, with the potential to significantly diminish the aircraft's in-flight performance and pitch stability.
This investigation highlights the importance of ensuring that all operational requirements are satisfied prior to exercising the privileges of any ratings or licences. In addition, the investigation reinforces the importance of pilots operating their aircraft within the published flight manual limitations.