Aviation safety investigations & reports

Controlled flight into terrain involving Piper PA34, VH-COU at Denmark (ALA), WA on 13 March 2014

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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On 13 March 2014, at 1715 western standard time (WST) a Piper Seneca aircraft registered VH-COU departed Jandakot on a private VFR flight to Denmark ALA, Western Australia. The pilot was the sole person on board.

At about 1820 the aircraft arrived over the top of Denmark, with the windsock indicating a westerly wind of about 15 knots blowing straight down runway 27. The pilot regularly flies to Denmark and is aware that at this time of day, the setting sun can restrict visibility when landing on 27. However a landing on runway 09 would have meant accepting a significant tailwind.

The pilot joined for runway 27 and by final approach had the aircraft configured for landing. At about 700 ft the visibility both inside and outside the aircraft degraded to zero. Totally blinded by the sun glare, the pilot initiated a go-around. A few moments later the aircraft struck the canopy of the rainforest which lines the runway.

Still unable to see, an unsure of what aircraft damage had occurred, the pilot conducted some handling checks. He left the aircraft in the landing configuration and joined for runway 09. The pilot was not injured however the aircraft was substantially damaged.

Sunlight and sun glare have been a major contributing factor in many aviation accidents. The US Federal Aviation Administration conducted research into the topic, and found 130 aircraft accidents in a 10 year period were associated with glare from natural sunlight. Further reading is available at www.hf.faa.gov.

It is also possible that having flown this same route regularly without issue, that the pilot experienced some level of complacency. Complacency, is a feeling of satisfaction with what is happening which may occur from a pilot’s overconfidence in performing a task that has been previously conducted numerous times without incident.


Aviation Short Investigations Bulletin - Issue 33

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General details
Date: 13 March 2014   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1820 WST   Investigation level: Short - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Denmark (ALA)    
State: Western Australia   Occurrence type: Terrain Collision  
Release date: 06 August 2014   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Piper Aircraft Corp  
Aircraft model PA-34-200T  
Aircraft registration VH-COU  
Serial number 34-7870273  
Type of operation Private  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Substantial  
Departure point Jandakot, WA  
Destination Denmark, WA  
Last update 14 November 2018