On 26 July2015, the pilot and five acquaintances departed Lakeside Airpark airstrip, in a PA32-300 (Cherokee Six) aircraft, WH-BDG, on a private joy flight around the Whitsunday Islands off the Queensland coast.

About one and a half hours flying around the islands and the outer portion of the Great Barrier Reef, the pilot set course for a return to Lakeside Airpark.

The pilot approached the extended centreline of runway 22 at an oblique angle and conducted a straight in approach. When about 6 NM from the airfield, at about 2,300 ft above mean sea level, the aircraft was configured for descent. After reducing the airspeed from about 135 to about 100 kt, and with 10° of flap selected, the aircraft descended to about 1,800 ft.

In order to clear the two sets of power lines on the approach, the pilot planned a steeper approach and set the flap to 40° (full flap) and the rate of descent increased to about 500-600 fpm.

On short final, the aircraft began to sink rapidly. The pilot applied full power, held the nose of the aircraft in a raised position and turned left toward lower ground, and initiated a go-around. The aircraft continued to sink and the tail struck the runway and dragged along for about 18m. The pilot continued with the go-around. The aircraft struck a fence running alongside the runway, an embankment and then landed in the water of a nearby dam.

While the aircraft remained on the surface of the water, the pilot opened the front passenger door allowing the front passenger and themselves to exit. This resulted in the aircraft filling with water. The rear passengers were unable to open the rear door of the aircraft. The pilot and some of the other passengers rescued the rear passengers.

One passenger sustained serious injuries. The pilot and another passenger sustained minor injuries and the aircraft was substantially damaged.

The ATSB was unable to reconcile any differences in recollections between the pilot and three of the passengers who recounted their experiences. For example, in regards to the pre-flight safety briefing, the pilot reported that this was conducted, however all three passengers reported that no safety brief was given.

This accident highlights the importance of thorough pre-flight planning and preparation to minimise safety critical decisions in flight.

CASA have an online kit ‘CASA Flight Planning Always Thinking Ahead” available from the downloaded from the CASA website.  This tool kit addresses the three levels of flight planning (the straightforward elements, unusual situations and whether to go) and their application over eight stages of flight.

The ATSB research report, Improving the odds: Trends in fatal and non-fatal accident in private flying operations (AR-2008-045) is available from the ATSB website. This report encourages pilots to make decisions before the flight, continually assess the flight conditions, evaluate the effectiveness of their plans, set personal minimums, assess their fitness to fly, and to seek local knowledge (and if necessary a check flight) on the route and / or destination as part of the pre-flight planning process.


Aviation Short Investigations Bulletin Issue 44

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