What happened

At about 0518 Eastern Standard Time on 25 March 2013, a Cessna T210N aircraft, registered VH‑MEQ, took off in dark night conditions from runway 36 at Roma Airport on a flight to Cloncurry, Queensland. Following the activation of the aircraft’s emergency locator transmitter, a search was commenced for the aircraft by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. It was subsequently located 2 km to the north‑west of the airport, having collided with terrain while heading in a south-westerly direction. The aircraft was destroyed and the pilot and passenger were fatally injured.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB found that the departure was conducted in dark night conditions, despite the pilot not holding a night visual flight rules rating and probably not having the proficiency to control the aircraft solely by reference to the flight instruments. During the climb after take-off, the pilot probably became spatially disorientated from a lack of external visual cues, leading to a loss of control and impact with terrain.

No mechanical defect was identified with the aircraft or its systems that may have contributed to the accident.

Safety message

This accident reinforces the need for day visual flight rules pilots to consider the minimum visual conditions for flight, including the relevant weather information and usable daylight. In this case, if the pilot had delayed the departure by 30 minutes, the flight would most likely have progressed safely in daylight conditions.

There are numerous airports in Australia, including Roma, that have an abundance of ground lighting in one take-off direction but not another. This accident highlights the potential benefits of night visual flight rules and instrument-rated pilots considering the location of ground lighting when planning night operations.

Finally, the benefit of crash-activated emergency locator transmitters that include global positioning system-based location information, thereby providing for a timely emergency response in the event of an accident, is emphasised.