What happened

On 23 October 2013, the pilot of a Cessna 182Q aircraft, registered VH-KKM and operating under the visual flight rules, departed Moruya Airport, New South Wales on a private flight to Mangalore Airport, Victoria. The flight route encompassed the Alpine National Park, where the forecast and actual weather included extensive thick cloud and severe turbulence.

Shortly after passing Mount Hotham Airport, Victoria, the aircraft collided with terrain on the eastern side of Mount Blue Rag, at about 5,000 ft above mean sea level. The pilot sustained fatal injuries and the aircraft was destroyed.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB found that the visual flight rules-qualified pilot had minimal total and recent flying experience and departed Moruya with less than visual meteorological conditions forecast along the planned route. It was very likely that these conditions were encountered shortly after passing Mount Hotham Airport, while flying over the Alpine National Park. From the evidence available it was likely that the pilot encountered reduced visibility to the extent that terrain avoidance could not be assured, resulting in the aircraft colliding with terrain in controlled flight.

Safety message

This accident highlights the risks associated with operating under the visual flight rules in adverse weather, particularly when flying in a challenging environment such as in mountainous terrain.

Thorough pre-flight planning is essential for avoiding weather. It is not only important to obtain the relevant weather forecasts to develop a mental picture of the conditions that may be encountered, but also to assess this information and understand how it relates to the planned flight. In forecast marginal weather, this involves consideration of alternative options such as diverting or turning back and pilots assessing their skills and/or aircraft’s suitability for the task in the conditions.

During flight, pilots must continuously assess the weather for conditions that may adversely affect the safety of the flight and be prepared to use an alternative course of action if conditions deteriorate. This can include seeking assistance, such as that available from air traffic control.

The ATSB is concerned about the frequency of accidents – many fatal – that involve pilots flying with reduced visual cues. This has been highlighted on the ATSB website as a SafetyWatch priority, along with a number of strategies to help manage the risk and links to relevant safety resources.