Aviation safety investigations & reports

Collision with terrain involving experimental ASH-25E glider, VH-GOA, 13 km west-north-west of Bathurst, New South Wales, on 21 January 2018

Investigation number:
AO-2018-009
Status: Completed
Investigation completed
Phase: Final report: Dissemination Read more information on this investigation phase

Final Report

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What happened

At about 1250 Eastern Daylight Time on 21 January 2018, a Schleicher ASH-25E (AMT Jet) experimental powered glider, registered VH-GOA (GOA), was launched from the Bathurst Soaring Club facilities (Piper’s Field) New South Wales. The experienced pilot intended to conduct a cross-country flight, and was the sole occupant.

Eight minutes into the flight, the glider had climbed to about 2,200 ft in a thermal. Shortly after, it abruptly started to descend and track back towards the airfield. Witnesses saw smoke or liquid trailing from the glider and flames in the area behind the cockpit.

At about 1300, when at about 1,100 ft AGL, the pilot jettisoned the front-seat canopy but did not exit the glider. Fire engulfed more of the rapidly descending aircraft’s fuselage before it collided with the ground in a nose-down attitude. The pilot was fatally injured, and the aircraft was destroyed.

Aircraft track as recorded by the on-board GPS and as recalled by witnesses

What the ATSB found

The glider caught fire in-flight, with flames seen near the engine housing. However, due to the severe post‑impact fire damage, the ignition source of the fire could not be determined. The pilot was probably attempting to return the burning glider to the airfield when it departed controlled flight and collided with terrain. The loss of control was probably due to the effects of fire incapacitating the pilot and/or affecting the aircraft’s flight controls.

The ATSB found that the pilot had the necessary equipment to make an emergency egress from the glider to escape the effects of the fire. He jettisoned the glider's canopy but possibly due to incapacitation, did not exit.

Finally, the glider’s cockpit and engine housing were not separated by a firewall. That resulted in limited containment of smoke and fire, and reduced the available time to make an emergency exit.

What’s been done as a result

Following the occurrence, the Gliding Federation of Australia published an Airworthiness Directive and Airworthiness Advice Notice, both entitled Engine Compartment Fire Containment and Retardation, which provide guidance regarding fire safety. The Airworthiness Directive requires all powered glider operators to inspect and repair fire retardant paint, fit ‘in case of engine fire’ cockpit placards, and ensure there is no flammable material on the cockpit side of any firewalls.

Safety message

Although not an airworthiness requirement, pilots of powered experimental gliders are strongly encouraged to install fire protection between themselves and the engine housing. The ability to exit a glider relies on avoiding incapacitation that can happen quickly in the event of in-flight fires.

Download final report
[Download  PDF: 1.67MB]
 
 
 

The occurrence

Context

Safety analysis

Findings

Safety action

Sources and submissions

General details
Date: 21 January 2018   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1300 EST   Investigation level: Systemic - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Pipers Field, 13 km WNW Bathurst Airport   Investigation phase: Final report: Dissemination  
State: New South Wales   Occurrence type: Fire  
Release date: 17 December 2019   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Fatal  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Alexander Schleicher Segelflugzeugbau  
Aircraft model ASH-25M (experimental)  
Aircraft registration VH-GOA  
Serial number 25045  
Type of operation Gliding  
Sector Other  
Damage to aircraft Destroyed  
Departure point Bathurst, NSW  
Destination Bathurst, NSW  
Last update 03 April 2020