An aircraft accident that resulted in the fatality of a child passenger is a shocking reminder to all pilots about the dangers of unauthorised and unnecessary low-level flying, according to the ATSB.

The accident occurred on 12 April 2014 when a Maule M-5 aircraft, with a pilot and two passengers on board, struck a powerline across the Clarence River in New South Wales. The aircraft then collided with water, coming to rest inverted with the cabin submerged.

The pilot and front-seat adult passenger escaped the cockpit through one of the forward doors and attempted to free the rear-seat child passenger from the flooded cabin. After repeated attempts by the pilot to open the rear-right cabin door, the rear-seat passenger was recovered through a cockpit door. Sustained attempts to resuscitate the rear-seat passenger were unsuccessful.

The ATSB found that the accident was an unintended consequence of the pilot’s spur-of-the-moment decision to fly at a very low level along the river, in an unfamiliar environment and below the minimum stipulated height for flights over unpopulated areas.

The pilot reported seeing the powerline just before the collision, but with insufficient time to avoid a wirestrike. The pilot was not approved to conduct low-flying operations and had not completed any training to identify the hazards associated with such operations.

ATSB general manager of strategic capability, Julian Walsh, said the accident is a very powerful and tragic reminder for pilots about the dangers of unauthorised and unnecessary low‑level flying.

“Flying at low heights—below 1,000ft above terrain for populous areas or 500ft for other areas—presents many obstacles and has very low margin for error,” Mr Walsh said. “Most private pilots generally have no reason to fly at these dangerous low levels and there are special training and endorsement to do so.”

“The tragic accident at Clarence River is just one of many accidents we’ve investigated that resulted from aircraft flying too low. This accident was completely avoidable. It should serve as a stark warning to other pilots who are ever tempted to fly lower than necessary.”

A copy of the investigation report (AO-2014-068) into this accident is available on the ATSB website. Low-level flying is one of the ATSB’s top safety concerns for general aviation pilots. More information can be found on the ATSB’s SafetyWatch page or via the ATSB’s avoidable accident publication Low-level flying.  


Media contact: 1800 020 616
Last update 22 April 2015