Aviation safety investigations & reports

Loss of control and collision with terrain involving DJI Inspire 2 remotely piloted aircraft Darling Harbour Sydney, New South Wales on 15 January 2021

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


Download Final report
[Download  PDF: 1.31MB]

What happened

On the morning of 15 January 2021, a DJI Inspire 2 remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) was being used for aerial photography and videography above Cockle Bay in Darling Harbour, Sydney. A short time after take-off the RPA unexpectedly accelerated away from the pilot. The pilot attempted to control the RPA and arrest its movement however, the aircraft was unresponsive to control inputs. The aircraft continued to accelerate to its maximum speed while flying away from the operator and towards nearby buildings. A short time later the RPA struck, and shattered, the window of a hotel adjacent to Darling Harbour. An occupant of the hotel received minor injuries from flying glass and the RPA was destroyed.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB found that shortly after take-off for the second flight of the day, the compass on the RPA failed due to electromagnetic interference. This resulted in the aircraft becoming unresponsive to control inputs leading to the collision with a building. Although not triggered in this occurrence, the failure of the compass also disabled the Failsafe return to home function. Thus, the failure of the compass had the two-fold effect of rendering the aircraft uncontrollable while simultaneously disabling the failsafe designed to prevent a fly away occurrence. 

Although not contributory to this occurrence, the ATSB also found the pilot did not follow the operator’s emergency procedures or comply with the regulators operational permissions to fly in restricted airspace.

What has been done as a result

Following a review of this occurrence, the manufacturer updated the user manuals of a number of products, including the Inspire 2. These changes provide additional guidance to users regarding the use of the fully manual attitude flight mode in the event of compass interference.

Safety message

While the reliability of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA’s) is generally high, they are not infallible. Occurrences reported to the ATSB indicate that RPA fly-away occurrences are not rare. It is therefore important that pilots ensure they are familiar with and well drilled in emergency procedures, as well as being proficient in flying in all flight modes. In the case of an RPA fly‑away, whether it be due to a compass failure or loss of signal, there may only be a few seconds in which a pilot can take avoiding action. In the event of a compass failure, switching to the fully manual attitude flight mode may assist regaining control of the RPAS. Whereas, following a loss of signal to the RPA, the last remaining risk control to prevent a fly away are built-in design features such as the Failsafe Return to Home.

Remote pilots are also reminded that adhering to operational guidelines and limitations remains important for ensuring the safe operation of RPAs. This is particularly true in populated areas, where risks are potentially elevated. Adhering to the limitations and guidance provided by the regulator will ensure these risks remain as low as reasonably practicable.

Download Final report
[Download  PDF: 1.31MB]

The occurrence


Safety analysis


Safety action

Sources and submissions

Australian Transport Safety Bureau



The ATSB is investigating a loss of operator control and collision with terrain involving a DJI Inspire 2 remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) at Darling Harbour, NSW, on 15 January 2021.

While conducting aerial photography the RPA was flown to approximately 10 m above ground level when the pilot reportedly lost control of the aircraft. The RPA flew away laterally at high speed and subsequently collided with and broke the window of a building. An occupant of the building sustained minor injuries from the shattered glass. The RPA was destroyed.

The ATSB will interview the pilot, obtain and review recorded flight and controller data, and review the operator’s procedures as part of the investigation.

A report will be released at the conclusion of the investigation, however should a critical safety issue be identified the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties so appropriate action can be taken

General details
Date: 15 January 2021   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1145 EDT   Investigation level: Defined - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Darling Harbour   Investigation phase: Final report: Dissemination  
State: New South Wales   Occurrence type: Collision with terrain  
Release date: 23 June 2022   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft model Inspire 2  
Aircraft registration 09YDFAL0040942  
Serial number 09YDFAL0040942  
Operator Sky Monkey Pty Ltd  
Type of operation Aerial Work  
Sector Remotely piloted aircraft  
Damage to aircraft Destroyed  
Departure point Darling Harbour, New South Wales  
Destination Darling Harbour, New South Wales  
Last update 23 June 2022