Aviation safety investigations & reports

Collision with terrain involving Piper PA25-235/A9 Pawnee VH-NLP, 10 km west of Darlington, Victoria, on 20 March 2015

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed

Final Report

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What happened

On the morning of 20 March 2015, the pilot of a Piper PA 25-235/A9 Pawnee aircraft, registered VH-NLP, departed a private airstrip near Derrinallum to conduct insect baiting operations on a property near Darlington, Victoria. Shortly after commencing that task, the aircraft collided with terrain and was destroyed by impact forces and a post-impact fire. The pilot, who was the sole occupant, was fatally injured.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB found that while positioning the aircraft for a baiting run, the pilot inadvertently descended below the normal application height over an adjacent paddock. While recovering from this loss of height and avoiding terrain, the aircraft probably stalled and entered an incipient spin at a height from which recovery was not possible before colliding with terrain.

There was no evidence of any pre-existing mechanical defect with the aircraft or engine that could have contributed to the accident. However, the aircraft was being operated outside the flight envelope as it exceeded the design maximum take-off weight. In addition, the conditions were conducive for the formation of carburettor icing.

Safety message

Operators and pilots are reminded of the hazards associated with agricultural low-level flying and the increased risk of collision with terrain. The ATSB highlights the importance to pilots and operators of ensuring that their aircraft’s weight and balance is within specified limits, and understanding the effects of operating outside the flight envelope on the aircraft’s flying characteristics. This accident is also a reminder of the importance of monitoring environmental conditions and the associated risk of carburettor icing.

Photograph of VH-NLP
Source: The operator 

Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 1.22MB]

The occurrence

Safety analysis


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General details
Date: 20 March 2015   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 0915 ESuT   Investigation level: Defined - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Darlington    
State: Victoria   Occurrence type: Collision with terrain  
Release date: 16 March 2017   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Fatal  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Piper Aircraft Corp  
Aircraft model PA-25 Pawnee  
Aircraft registration VH-NLP  
Type of operation Aerial Work  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Destroyed  
Departure point Private airstrip near Derrinallum  
Last update 14 November 2018