Aviation safety investigations & reports

Collision with terrain involving Air Tractor AT-502, VH-LIK, 50 km east of Walgett Airport, NSW on 5 November 2016

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed
Phase: Final report: Dissemination Read more information on this investigation phase

Final Report

Download final report
[Download  PDF: 1.88MB]

What happened

On 5 November 2016, the pilot of an Air Tractor AT-502 aircraft, registered VH-LIK, was conducting aerial spraying operations from an airstrip at Cryon, New South Wales. After completing six spray loads, the pilot loaded liquid chemical into the aircraft’s hopper and refuelled the aircraft. At 0953 Eastern Daylight-saving Time,[1] the pilot commenced a take-off to the north.

About 44 seconds after commencing the take-off, the aircraft collided with trees and the ground before coming to rest inverted. The pilot was fatally injured and the aircraft was destroyed by impact forces and a fuel-fed fire.

What the ATSB found

The flaps were retracted at some point during the take-off, which significantly degraded the take‑off and climb performance. This effect was compounded by the estimated weight of the aircraft, the local temperature and wind conditions at the time of the flight. The combined effect probably resulted in the aircraft having insufficient take-off performance. The reason the flaps were retracted was not able to be determined.

The aircraft reached a height above the ground where the reduced benefit of ground effect further degraded the aircraft’s performance. The low height and airspeed precluded the pilot from turning the aircraft towards a clear area and the aircraft descended into trees.

Recorded data from the aircraft indicated that the pilot attempted to dump the hopper contents after becoming airborne, which would have achieved significant gains in climb performance, however a complete dump was not achieved. The reason for this could not be determined.

What has been done as a result

The aircraft manufacturer is updating the maintenance section of the aircraft owner’s manual to specify that the gatebox and emergency dump controls are to be inspected periodically for condition, function and adjustment.

Safety message

Acknowledging that the pilot was unable to dump the load on this occasion, the performance benefits in quickly and significantly reducing the aircraft weight means that the requirement to dump the hopper load, when the aircraft performance is not as expected, should be at the forefront of the minds of agricultural pilots. As with all emergency procedures, it is essential that pilots have a well-rehearsed plan, appropriate training and recent practice in conducting an emergency hopper load dump in the aircraft they are operating.

Proper functioning of the emergency jettison system is vital as pilots rely on it in case performance is inadequate, particularly when taking off with a heavy load. Therefore, registered operators should ensure adequate ongoing maintenance and regular checks to maintain serviceability of the system.

Pilots are reminded to monitor weather conditions like temperature and wind and anticipate the potential adverse effects of local conditions on aircraft performance. Where performance data is available for an aircraft, pilots should make active use of it to have the best opportunity to assess the expected performance of the aircraft for the given weight and environmental conditions before take‑off.


  1. Eastern Daylight-saving Time (EDT) was Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) + 11 hours.
Download final report
[Download  PDF: 1.88MB]

The occurrence

Safety analysis


Safety issues and actions

Additional details

Sources and submissions

General details
Date: 05 November 2016   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 0954 EDT   Investigation level: Defined - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): 50 km E of Walgett Airport   Investigation phase: Final report: Dissemination  
State: New South Wales   Occurrence type: Collision with terrain  
Release date: 20 November 2018   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Fatal  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Air Tractor Inc  
Aircraft model AT-502  
Aircraft registration VH-LIK  
Serial number 502-0115  
Type of operation Aerial Work  
Sector Turboprop  
Damage to aircraft Destroyed  
Departure point Airstrip at Cryon, NSW  
Last update 20 November 2018