Aviation safety investigations & reports

Collision with terrain involving Piper PA-25-235/A9 aircraft, VH-SEH, near Seaview, Victoria, on 23 February 2022

Investigation number:
AO-2022-008
Status: Active
Investigation in progress

Preliminary

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This preliminary report details factual information established in the investigation’s early evidence collection phase, and has been prepared to provide timely information to the industry and public. Preliminary reports contain no analysis or findings, which will be detailed in the investigation’s final report. The information contained in this preliminary report is released in accordance with section 25 of the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003.

The occurrence

On 23 February 2022, at about 0650 Eastern Daylight-saving Time,[1] the pilot of a Piper Aircraft Corporation PA-25-235/A9, registered VH-SEH, departed Leongatha Aerodrome, Victoria, for a positioning flight about 25 km north to a private landing area[2] at Seaview.

The aircraft landed at about 0700 in preparation for aerial spreading of superphosphate pellets. The loader driver[3] arrived shortly after, finding that the loader’s bucket had been pre-filled by the pilot. The loader driver transferred the superphosphate to the aircraft’s hopper with the pilot on board. The loader driver could not later recall how much superphosphate had been loaded.

The loader driver then parked the loader at the southern end of the landing area and prepared for the next load. A short time later, the pilot started the aircraft’s engine and remained at the southernmost point of the landing area for about 5 minutes.

Based on local weather observations and a video recording made by a nearby witness, the weather at the time of the accident was fine with the wind likely calm.

Data from an onboard GPS showed that the pilot commenced the take-off on the prepared runway strip at about 0711 (Figure 1). According to witnesses and the recorded video, the aircraft accelerated along the prepared strip and traversed the right section where the strip split into 2 directions. The aircraft briefly became airborne at a point at the end of the strip, where the terrain dropped away, before the outboard section of the aircraft’s left wing impacted trees. The aircraft rolled to the left, pitched down, and collided with terrain about 30 m north of the trees (Figure 2). The pilot was fatally injured and the aircraft was destroyed.

Figure 1: Landing area overview

Figure 1: Landing area overview

Source: ATSB

Figure 2: Landing area overview showing approximate lift-off point, impact with trees and ground impact point

Figure 2: Landing area overview showing approximate lift-off point, impact with trees and ground impact point

 

Source: ATSB

Context

Pilot information

The pilot held a valid class 1 aviation medical certificate and a commercial pilot licence (aeroplane), having completed a flight review on 30 October 2020 and a proficiency check on 11 November 2021. At the time of the accident, the pilot had about 12,350 hours total aeronautical experience.

The pilot was the operator’s owner and chief pilot.

Aircraft information

The aircraft was a Piper Pawnee PA-25-235/A9 with a 6-cylinder, normally-aspirated Textron Lycoming O-540-H2A5 engine driving a 2-blade McCauley Propellers 1A200/FA8452 fixed-pitch propeller (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Another Piper PA-25-235/A9 configured for agricultural spreading

Figure 3: Another Piper PA-25-235/A9 configured for agricultural spreading

 

Source: ATSB

The aircraft’s hopper could hold up to about 700 kg of superphosphate pellets, but its maximum permissible hopper load was 544 kg (considered a full load by the operator’s other pilots). There was a clear section in the cockpit to enable the pilot to see how much volume of product was in the hopper.

The exact volume or weight of superphosphate loaded into the aircraft’s hopper could not be determined. The operator’s other pilots reported that it was normal to take a full load of superphosphate on the first flight from a landing area unless weather and strip surface conditions were unfavourable. In these scenarios, the pilot could opt to take a half load as a first flight.

Landing area

The landing area was normally used for cattle grazing and was prepared as a landing area for aerial application operations once a year. The pilot had not operated from the landing area since 2019.

The prepared strip had been mowed into a ‘Y’ configuration by the pilot in the days before the accident. It consisted of mowed grass and the surface was rough from previous cattle movement in wet soil. The strip was about 360 m in length and followed the natural terrain, with a downwards then upwards slope before the terrain dropped steeply towards a stand of trees about 60 m from the northernmost end of the strip. The left of the ‘Y’ was oriented to the left of the trees and the right of the ‘Y’ was oriented directly towards the trees (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Runway strip Y intersection showing the left and right take-off options with the trees at the runway’s end

Figure 4: Runway strip Y intersection showing the left and right take-off options with the trees at the runway’s end

 

Source: ATSB

Site and wreckage

The ATSB conducted an on-site examination of the aircraft wreckage (Figure 5). The aircraft impacted the ground inverted with an angle of entry of about 50°. There were no evident pre-impact defects with the flight controls or aircraft structure, and external examination of the engine did not identify any obvious defects. The propeller damage was indicative of the engine driving the propeller with significant power at impact. Preliminary audio analysis of the witness video indicated that the engine was at or close to its maximum rotational speed throughout the take-off.

Figure 5: Wreckage of VH-SEH

 

Figure 5: Wreckage of VH-SEH

Source: ATSB

Further investigation

The investigation is continuing and will include:

  • pilot records
  • aircraft records
  • aircraft weight and balance
  • aircraft take-off performance
  • further analysis of the witness video recording and downloaded GPS data.

Should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties so appropriate and timely safety action can be taken.

A final report will be released at the conclusion of the investigation.

__________

  1. Eastern Daylight-saving Time (EDT): Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) + 11 hours.
  2. Landing area: a place, whether or not an aerodrome, where an aeroplane is able to take off and land.
  3. Loader driver: an operator of loading equipment to support aerial application operations.
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Summary

The ATSB is investigating the collision with terrain of Piper PA-25-235/A9 aircraft, registered VH-SEH, near Seaview, Victoria on 23 February 2022.

During agriculture spraying operations, the aircraft collided with terrain. The pilot, the sole person on board, was fatally injured and the aircraft was destroyed.

The evidence collection phase of the investigation will include examination of the accident site and wreckage by ATSB investigators, and the collection of other relevant evidence, including recorded data, weather information, witness reports, aircraft operator procedures and maintenance records.

A final report will be released at the conclusion of the investigation. Should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties, so that appropriate safety action can be taken.

General details
Date: 23 February 2022   Investigation status: Active  
Time: 0700 AEST   Investigation level: Short - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): near Seaview   Investigation phase: Final report: Drafting  
State: Victoria   Occurrence type: Collision with terrain  
Release date: 24 February 2022   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Pending   Highest injury level: Fatal  
Anticipated completion: 4th Quarter 2022    

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Piper Aircraft Corp  
Aircraft model PA-25-235/A9  
Aircraft registration VH-SEH  
Serial number 25-7405565  
Operator Super Planes Pty Ltd  
Type of operation Aerial Work  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Destroyed  
Last update 12 September 2022