On 11 April 2013, at about 0851 Eastern Standard Time, an Aero Commander 500 aircraft, registered VH-TQA (TQA), departed Townsville, Queensland on a private flight to Moorabbin, Victoria, under the instrument flight rules (IFR).
After take-off, passing through 200 ft, the pilot attempted to establish communications with Townsville Approach ATC, but no response was received. The Approach controller reported they did not hear this call.
While passing through 400 ft, the pilot checked his radios to confirm the correct frequency had been selected. At the same time, the Tower controller alerted the Approach controller that TQA did not appear to be turning left at 1 NM, as per the published standard instrument departure (SID) procedure. As TQA passed through 500 ft, the pilot again contacted the Approach controller. The Approach controller responded and was about to question the pilot regarding the aircraft’s track, when he noted that TQA’s predicted tracking line on the radar display indicated that a turn in the direction of the SID had commenced.
At the same time, the pilot suspected TQA may have had a partial engine failure, and started troubleshooting actions.
When at about 3 NM, the Approach controller noted that the aircraft’s predicted tracking line had changed and was pointing to the south, indicating the aircraft was not on the SID. The Approach controller reminded the pilot of the SID requirement to turn onto a track of 105o at 1 NM.
Believing this was a radar vector, the pilot read back ‘left 105°’ and commenced a turn onto that heading. The aircraft was 4 NM from Townsville Airport when it turned and about 2,000 ft when it turned, putting it in close proximity to Mount Stuart.
This incident highlights the importance of maintaining situational awareness. Much of the research on this topic provides loss of situational awareness mitigation concepts.