Aviation safety investigations & reports

Collision with terrain involving Cessna C172M, VH-WTQ, near Agnes Water, Queensland, on 10 January 2017

Investigation number:
Status: Active
Investigation in progress
Phase: Final report: External review Read more information on this investigation phase


Published: 1 March 2017

History of the flight

On 10 January 2017, at about 1030 Eastern Standard Time,[1] a Cessna Aircraft Company 172M, registered VH-WTQ (WTQ), departed Agnes Water Airstrip on a charter service to a beach‑landing location about 12 NM (22 km) to the north-west near Middle Island, Queensland. On board were a pilot and three passengers (Figure 1).

The pilot reported that at about 1038, while conducting a low-altitude inspection of the beach‑landing site, the aircraft sustained a sudden loss of engine power. With limited time to respond to the power loss, and in an effort to avoid landing in the water, the pilot elected to turn back and land on the beach. The pilot reported considering this the safest option.

Figure 1: WTQ flight track and accident location with an indication of the general area at inset

VH-WTQ flight track and accident location with an indication of the general area at inset

Source: Google earth, modified by the ATSB

Two witnesses who observed the accident sequence indicated that the aircraft was flying parallel to the beach before turning left at an increasingly steep bank angle. The left wingtip struck the ground and then the nose, before the aircraft came to rest about 5 m past the nose impact point. One of the rear-seat passengers was fatally injured and the other three occupants sustained serious injuries. The aircraft was destroyed (Figure 2).

The pilot of another aircraft that was also operating a charter service to the same location, and was about 2 NM (4 km) behind WTQ, reported not seeing the accident sequence. When the pilot of the other aircraft observed the wreckage of WTQ during a flypast of the accident site, they immediately radioed air traffic services to advise that there had been an accident. The pilot landed the aircraft on the beach and, in conjunction with witnesses already at the scene, provided emergency assistance.

Figure 2: WTQ wreckage and accident site looking north-east

VH-WTQ wreckage and accident site looking north-east

Source: ATSB

Site and wreckage

Inspection of the site and wreckage identified:

  • that the aircraft impacted terrain in a left wing-low, steep nose-down attitude
  • that the aircraft was facing the opposite direction to the initial impact
  • no sign of rotational damage to the propeller
  • all of the aircraft components and flight control surfaces
  • continuity of the flight control systems
  • that the flaps were in the ‘up’ position when the aircraft impacted the ground.

Several aircraft components, including the engine and a Garmin 296 Global Positioning System (GPS) unit, were removed from the accident site for further examination by the ATSB.

Recorded information

GPS data

Data from the recovered GPS unit was successfully downloaded by the ATSB. This data included recorded values of time, latitude, longitude and altitude about every 10 seconds throughout the accident flight. Using the data, the aircraft’s flight path from Agnes Water to the accident site was overlayed on Google earth (Figure 3).

Figure 3: WTQ GPS-derived flight path, represented by red lines. The red lines are direct connections between each 10-second recording point and do not represent the aircraft’s actual flight path between points. Note that the image shows the local area at about low tide, whereas there was an outgoing high tide at the time of the accident

VH-WTQ GPS-derived flight path, represented by red lines.

Source: Google earth, modified by the ATSB

Radar data

A review of the Airservices Australia recorded radar data showed a number of secondary radar returns[2] that were confirmed to be from WTQ. The radar data provided track and altitude information from 1032 until 1038, at which time the radar return was lost.

Video footage

The Queensland Police Service downloaded data from a mobile phone that was located on the accident site. This data was provided to the ATSB and included a video file of the entire flight and accident sequence. The video was taken by the passenger who occupied the front-right seat.

Recovered flight video

Preliminary analysis of the recovered flight video indicated:

  • a normal take-off and climb to a cruise altitude of about 1,500 ft
  • at about 4 minutes flight time, the pilot conducted a series of manoeuvres including steep turns, steep climbs and descents, manoeuvres that were consistent with negative g[3] and yawing[4] the aircraft left and right
  • after about 6 minutes flight time, and after a second series of yawing and other manoeuvres that were consistent with negative g, the engine power momentarily reduced before recovering
  • a descent down to about 100 ft and flight parallel to the beach over water, consistent with the conduct of a beach-landing site inspection
  • at about 7 minutes flight time, the engine sustained a sudden power loss and subsequently the:
    • pilot turned the aircraft to the right momentarily before raising the nose and initiating a left turn with an initial bank angle of about 45°
    • bank angle increased and the airspeed decreased to a point where the aircraft’s stall warning horn sounded for about 3 seconds
    • aircraft rolled left and pitched nose down before impacting terrain.

Pilot actions following engine power loss

The circumstances of this accident are still being investigated. However, the ATSB reminds pilots that the risk of injury following a complete or partial engine power loss can be significantly reduced by using strategies such as:

  • undertaking pre-flight decision making and planning for emergencies and abnormal situations for a particular landing area
  • taking positive action and maintaining aircraft control, either when turning back to the landing area or conducting a forced landing, while being aware of the variables affecting the success of the forced landing such as any flare energy and the aircraft’s height and stall speed.

Continuing investigation

The investigation is continuing and will include examination of the:

  • GPS, video and radar data
  • recovered engine and engine components
  • pilot information
  • aircraft, operator, and maintenance documentation and procedures
  • aircraft weight and balance.


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 Standard Time (EST): Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) + 10 hours.
  2. Secondary surveillance radar relies on an aircraft’s operational transponder transmitting a data signal in response to being interrogated by an air traffic service radar or another receiver (for example, another aircraft’s Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System). The amount of information transmitted in the data signal is dependent on the type of transponder in the aircraft. This can range from the aircraft’s altitude (Mode C) to the identification of the flight and the pilotselected cruising level (Mode S).
  3. G load: the nominal value for acceleration. In flight, g load represents the combined effects of flight manoeuvring loads and turbulence and can have a positive or negative value.
  4. Yawing: the motion of an aircraft about its vertical or normal axis.

Initial summary

Updated: 13 January 2017

ATSB investigators have completed the on-site phase of the investigation into the collision with terrain involving Cessna C172M, registered VH-WTQ, near Agnes Water, Queensland on 10 January 2017.

As part of the ongoing investigation, the ATSB will continue to gather further evidence, including:

  • pilot and aircraft maintenance documentation
  • additional witness statements
  • recovery and examination of relevant data.

Further updates will be provided as significant information comes to hand.



Published: 10 January 2017

The ATSB is investigating a fatal accident involving a Cessna 172M near Agnes Water, Queensland on 10 January 2017. It is reported the aircraft collided with terrain and came to rest inverted, resulting in substantial damage. One person was fatally injured and three others sustained serious injuries.

The ATSB has deployed two investigators—specialising in aircraft engineering and operations—to the accident site. While on site, the investigators will survey the site, examine the wreckage, talk to witnesses and review aircraft and pilot documentation. They are expected to be onsite for three days.

Witnesses are asked to call the ATSB on 1800 020 616.

General details
Date: 10 January 2017   Investigation status: Active  
Time: 10:39 EST   Investigation level: Complex - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Agnes Water (ALA), N 19 km   Investigation phase: Final report: External review  
State: Queensland   Occurrence type: Collision with terrain  
Release date: 01 March 2017   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Pending   Highest injury level: Fatal  
Anticipated completion: 3rd Quarter 2019    

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Cessna Aircraft Company  
Aircraft model 172M  
Aircraft registration VH-WTQ  
Serial number 17261931  
Type of operation Charter  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Substantial  
Departure point Agnes Water  
Last update 10 July 2019