Aviation safety investigations & reports

Controlled flight into terrain involving Cessna 182, VH-DJN, 14 km south-south-west of Atherton Airport, Queensland, on 8 April 2019

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

Final Report

Download final report
[Download  PDF: 713KB]

What happened

On 8 April 2019, at 0650 Eastern Standard Time, a Cessna Aircraft Company 182 aircraft, registered VH-DJN, departed Cloncurry Airport on a private flight to Mount Garnet aerodrome, Queensland (Qld), under visual flight rules (VFR). On board were the pilot and one passenger. The aircraft landed in Mount Garnet at 0920, where the passenger disembarked and left the aerodrome. The passenger planned to return to the aerodrome at about 1500 for an onward flight (in VH-DJN) to Charters Towers, Qld.

At 0934, the aircraft departed Mount Garnet for a 62 km VFR flight to Atherton Airport, where the pilot intended to refuel the aeroplane before returning to collect the passenger from Mount Garnet. However, 15 minutes after departing Mount Garnet and about 14 km from Atherton, the aircraft impacted trees and terrain on the Herberton Range. The impact fatally injured the pilot and the aircraft was destroyed.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB found that the pilot, who was qualified only to operate in visual meteorological conditions, flew toward and entered an area of low cloud and reduced visibility, which obscured rising terrain. This almost certainly resulted in the pilot losing visual reference with the ground and a controlled flight into terrain.

While it could not be determined whether it influenced the accident, the pilot had taken medication that had the potential to affect performance and was therefore required to be disclosed to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). This medication had not been disclosed to the pilot's Designated Aviation Medical Examiner or recorded on the pilot's CASA medical file.

Safety message

The ATSB is concerned about the frequency of accidents, many fatal, which involve pilots flying with reduced visual cues. The risks associated with operating under the visual flight rules in adverse weather appear to be under-estimated. The ability to understand weather-related hazards and how to assess and mitigate them, are vital skills for pilots, particularly those who fly in challenging environments like mountainous terrain.

Weather conditions must be considered during pre-flight planning, assessed and reassessed during flight and pilots should have a rehearsed plan in case weather deteriorates.

  • VFR pilots should use a ‘personal minimums’ checklist to help control and manage flight risks through identifying risk factors that include marginal weather conditions and only fly in environments that do not exceed their capabilities.
  • During flight, pilots must continuously assess the weather for conditions that may adversely affect the safety of the flight and be prepared to use an alternative course of action if conditions deteriorate. They should make timely decisions to turn back, divert or hold in an area of good weather.
  • Pressing on into instrument meteorological conditions without a current instrument rating and a suitably-equipped aircraft, carries a significant risk of disorientation and a loss of spatial awareness from reduced visual cues. This can easily affect any pilot, no matter what their level of experience.
Download final report
[Download  PDF: 713KB]

The occurrence


Safety analysis


Sources and submissions

General details
Date: 08 April 2019   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 0949 EST   Investigation level: Defined - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): 14 km SSW Atherton Airport   Investigation phase: Final report: Dissemination  
State: Queensland   Occurrence type: Controlled flight into terrain (CFIT)  
Release date: 17 September 2020   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Fatal  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Cessna Aircraft Company  
Aircraft model 182G  
Aircraft registration VH-DJN  
Serial number 18255171  
Type of operation Private  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Destroyed  
Departure point Mount Garnet, Queensland  
Destination Atherton Airport, Queensland  
Last update 17 September 2020