On 12 April 2014, a Maule M-5 aircraft, registered VH-HOG, collided with a powerline spanning the Clarence River, approximately 50 km west-south-west of Casino, New South Wales. The pilot was accompanied on the private category flight by two passengers, an adult and a child. The aircraft departed controlled flight after the wirestrike and impacted the water, coming to rest inverted with the cabin submerged.
The pilot and front-seat adult passenger escaped the cockpit through one of the forward doors and attempted to free the rear-seat child passenger from the flooded cabin. After repeated attempts by the pilot to open the rear-right cabin door, the rear-seat passenger was recovered through a cockpit door. Sustained attempts to resuscitate the rear-seat passenger were unsuccessful.
What the ATSB found
The aircraft was capable of normal operation prior to the wirestrike. The weather conditions in the vicinity were suitable for visual flight.
The wirestrike and resulting loss of aircraft control was an unintended consequence of the pilot’s spur of the moment decision to fly at very low level along the river, in an unfamiliar environment and below the minimum stipulated height for flights over unpopulated areas. The pilot reported seeing the powerline cables just before the collision, but with insufficient time to avoid a wirestrike. The pilot did not hold an approval to conduct low-flying operations and had not completed any training to identify the hazards associated with such operations. The powerline was not fitted with visual warning markers, nor was there any requirement for such markers in this case.
The submerged, flooded and inverted cabin increased the difficulty experienced by the occupants in exiting the aircraft. Furthermore, impact damage sustained by the right wing likely rendered the rear-right cabin door unusable as an emergency exit, delaying the recovery of the rear-seat passenger.
This accident reaffirms the risk of unnecessary and unauthorised low flying.
Operations at low altitude expose an aircraft and its occupants to a number of environment‑specific hazards and result in significantly reduced safety margins. Powerline cables and other wires, which can be encountered even in relatively remote locations, are typically very difficult to see and present a critical hazard to any low-flying aircraft. In recognition of these and the other specific risks and hazards of low-level flying, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority requires pilots to receive special training and endorsements before conducting low-level operations.
The operation of an aircraft in close proximity to terrain or water limits the opportunity to recover from any loss of control or respond to any in-flight emergency when compared to flight at higher altitudes.