What happened

At about 1415 Eastern Daylight Time on 25 October 2013, an amateur-built Lancair Legacy aircraft, registered VH-ICZ, with the pilot and one passenger on-board, took off from Shepparton Airport, Victoria, for a flight to Yarrawonga, Victoria. Witnesses reported that the take-off and initial climb appeared normal, however shortly after, the aircraft’s pitch angle increased, after which it entered a descending right turn. The turn and descent continued until the aircraft collided with terrain alongside the airport boundary, fatally injuring the occupants and destroying the aircraft.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB found that shortly after take-off, and for reasons which could not be determined, the aircraft entered a steep climb, likely entered an aerodynamic stall, and began a descending right turn that continued until the aircraft collided with terrain.

The ATSB’s investigation was limited by the degree of damage to the aircraft and the presence of burnt carbon fibre. However, there was no evidence of any pre-existing mechanical fault with the aircraft and engine that could have contributed to the accident. A number of other possible contributing factors were considered and could not be completely discounted; those included sudden pilot incapacitation, aircraft handling, or the aircraft’s weight and balance being outside the design limits.

The aerodynamic characteristics of the aircraft design were such that it could enter a partial or completely stalled condition with little warning. The aircraft was not required to be (and was not) fitted with an angle-of-attack indicator or stall warning device.

The ATSB’s investigation found a number of instances where the regulatory requirements relating to the maintenance and operation of the aircraft had not been appropriately complied with. While the ATSB found no evidence that those non-conformances had brought about, or directly contributed to the accident, they did individually and collectively increase the risks associated with the aircraft’s operation.

Safety messages

Although amateur-built aircraft operated in the Experimental category are not required to be fitted with a stall warning device, owner-pilots should consider the benefits of such devices as a further defence against the inadvertent approach to, or entry into an aerodynamic stall.

While amateur-built experimental aircraft are not required to comply with the full range of safety regulations that are applicable to commercially-manufactured aircraft, the regulations that do apply are fundamentally important and have been introduced to control and reduce (as much as possible) the risks associated with the operation of this category of aircraft.

The ATSB research report AR-2007-043(2) makes numerous conclusions on the higher accident and fatality rates associated with amateur built aircraft operations. Pilots and passengers need to remain cognisant of the increased risks when flying in this category of aircraft.