Aviation safety investigations & reports

Loss of control and collision with terrain involving Pitts Model 12, VH-JDZ, 8 km south-west of Maitland Airport, NSW, on 8 July 2015

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed

Final Report

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What happened

At about 1618 Eastern Standard Time on 8 July 2015, the pilot/owner of an amateur-built Pitts Model 12, registered VH‑JDZ, took off from Maitland Airport, New South Wales.

Witnesses reported hearing a loud engine noise at about 1630 that caught their attention. They then observed the aircraft at the top of what appeared to be a vertical climb. The aircraft slid backwards, tail first, before entering a horizontal spin. Shortly after, the witnesses lost sight of the aircraft below the tree line and some reported hearing a loud bang.

The aircraft was located by search aircraft and ground personnel who arrived at the site of the accident at about 1715. The aircraft had collided with terrain in thick bushland, fatally injuring the pilot. The aircraft was destroyed by impact forces and an intense post-impact fire.

What the ATSB found

Radar data and witness reports were consistent with the aircraft being used for aerobatic manoeuvres in the minutes prior to the accident.

The ATSB considered the results of the pilot’s post-mortem examination, which indicated the pilot had coronary artery disease that may have resulted in permanent incapacitation. However, while that remained a possibility, there was insufficient evidence to conclude that it influenced the development of the accident. The ATSB found that for reasons that could not be determined, VH‑JDZ entered a vertical manoeuvre from which the pilot did not regain control before colliding with terrain. Additionally the aircraft was being flown at a height which reduced the time available to effect a recovery, if required.

The ATSB also identified instances of misinterpretation of a number of the regulations concerning the maintenance of amateur-built experimental aircraft. This has the potential to affect the safety of these aircraft and those on board.

Safety message

Aerobatic flying requires extensive training and ongoing commitment to maintain the skills necessary for safe operations. Unauthorised aerobatic manoeuvres increase the risk to the pilot, any passengers and third parties in the vicinity of the aerobatics.

Flying at low level reduces the safety margin available should something unexpected happen. The ATSB has issued a series of ‘Avoidable Accidents’ publications, the first of which details the risks involved in low-level flying and includes the following statement:

Low-level flying also presents fewer opportunities to recover from a loss of control compared to flight at higher altitudes. It takes time to react and to regain control of an aircraft, and the closer to the ground you are, the less time and distance you have. Flying at low altitudes is not only risky when things are going right; it becomes downright perilous when things are going wrong.

More information is available from the ATSB’s avoidable accident web page.

Finally, ongoing safety requires aircraft owners and maintainers to operate and maintain the aircraft in accordance with relevant regulations, including those specific to experimental aircraft. Aircraft operation and maintenance outside the regulatory requirements increases safety risk.

Amateur-built Pitts Model 12 registered VH-JDZ

Photograph of VH-JDZ. Source: Supplied

Source: Supplied


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The occurrence


Safety analysis


Sources and submissions


General details
Date: 08 July 2015   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1630 EST   Investigation level: Defined - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): 8 km SW Maitland Airport    
State: New South Wales   Occurrence type: Loss of control  
Release date: 29 July 2016   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Fatal  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Amateur Built Aircraft  
Aircraft model Pitts 12  
Aircraft registration VH-JDZ  
Serial number 42  
Type of operation Unknown  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Destroyed  
Last update 14 November 2018