Updated: 27 January 2015

At 1748 Eastern Daylight-saving Time[1] on 29 December 2014, a Cessna 172S aircraft, registered VH‑PFT, with a pilot and photographer on board departed Cambridge Airport, Tasmania on an aerial work flight. The purpose of the flight was to photograph yachts participating in the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2014 as they sailed around the southern coast of the Tasman Peninsula and into Storm Bay en route to Hobart.

The pilot of the aircraft had completed a number of low-level passes on various yachts in the vicinity of Storm Bay before commencing a low-level pass from a southerly direction on the yacht Mistraal. After passing abeam Mistraal, the aircraft continued on its northerly track for about 20 seconds and then commenced what witnesses described as a level, steep left turn. Witnesses stated that shortly after commencing the turn, the aircraft’s nose dropped sharply and the aircraft descended rapidly, impacting the surface of the ocean.

Mistraal’s crew turned their yacht towards the aircraft, which could be seen mostly submerged with the tail section protruding above the surface of the water and, at 1817, notified the yacht race controllers of the accident by radio. However, the aircraft completely submerged before Mistraal could arrive at the location and a Mistraal crewmember marked the position of the aircraft using onboard global positioning system equipment. Witnesses described the weather at the time of the accident as being fine, with a light wind from the south-west.

A number of other nearby yachts also diverted to render assistance after observing the aircraft impact the water or in response to the emergency broadcast from the Mistraal crew. A police vessel arrived at the site to coordinate the search and rescue activities approximately 20 minutes after the accident was first reported.

The aircraft was recovered from about 90 m of water on 6 January 2015 by Tasmania Police and transported to Hobart. The aircraft occupants were fatally injured and the aircraft seriously damaged.[2]

Initial inspection of the aircraft wreckage has not identified any mechanical failures that may have contributed to the accident. Damage to the aircraft structure confirmed that it impacted the water in a steep, nose-down attitude (Figure 1). A number of aircraft components, including onboard recording media, were retained for technical analysis at the ATSB’s facilities in Canberra, the Australian Capital Territory.

Figure 1: Aircraft wreckage


The investigation is continuing and will include:

  • examination of the recovered aircraft components, including recorded data
  • an assessment of the weather in the area at the time
  • a review of the operator’s procedures, in particular for low-level and photographic flights
  • a review of relevant human factors issues.



The information contained in this web update is released in accordance with section 25 of the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 and is derived from the initial investigation of the occurrence. Readers are cautioned that new evidence will become available as the investigation progresses that will enhance the ATSB's understanding of the accident as outlined in this web update. As such, no analysis or findings are included in this update.


[1]     Eastern Daylight-saving Time (EDT) was Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) + 11 hours.

[2]     In accordance with Regulation 1.3 of the Transport Safety Investigation Regulations 2003, serious damage sustained by a transport vehicle can include the destruction of the vehicle.