On 4 June 2012, a Cessna Aircraft Company 182Q, registered VH-CWQ, with the pilot the sole person on board took off from Walgett in good weather conditions for a flight to Mudgee, New South Wales (NSW), initially climbing to 5,500 ft. During the flight, the cloud base lowered and the aircraft was descended until it was flying about 1,000 ft above flat terrain, either close to or in the cloud. The aircraft impacted a rock face in mountainous terrain near Tooraweenah, NSW. The pilot sustained fatal injuries and the aircraft was destroyed.
What the ATSB found
The ATSB found that the risk to flight was increased by deteriorating weather conditions. The risks associated with continuing a flight under these circumstances are highlighted in the ATSB Transport Safety report AR-2011-050, Accidents involving Visual Flight Rules (VFR) pilots in Instrument Meteorological Conditions. Additionally, influences on pilot decision making behaviours are described in the ATSB Research Investigation report B2005/0127, General Aviation Pilot behaviours in the face of Adverse Weather.
This accident provides a reminder to pilots of the insidious risks associated with reduced forward visibility when flying in or near the cloud base. The benefits of leaving a Flight Note with a suitable person in terms of ensuring the early commencement of a search for an overdue aircraft are also evident.
Pilots conducting VFR flights should remain aware that once they fly into weather conditions with reducing forward visibility, their ability to manoeuvre around approaching obstacles could be severely limited because obstacles may not be seen until they are too close to avoid. Such collisions are not often survivable.