Collision with terrain following in-flight simulated engine failure

Accident site of Angel Aircraft Corp 44, VH-IAZ, near Mareeba Airport, Queensland

Key points:

  • Aircraft rolled to the right and impacted the ground after a simulated engine failure after take-off
  • Exercise was conducted in a configuration in which the aircraft was unable to maintain altitude with one engine inoperative
  • Pilot likely had skill decay from lack of recent flying, instructor had minimal experience in aircraft type and limited experience in multi-engine aircraft with retractable landing gear

 

A twin piston-engined Angel 44 utility aircraft was conducting a simulated engine failure, when, about 20 seconds after take-off from Mareeba Airport in far north Queensland, it rolled rapidly to the right and impacted the ground, fatally injuring the pilot and instructor.

An ATSB investigation into the 14 December 2019 accident details that the aircraft was being used for a flight review of the aircraft’s owner-pilot, who was seated in the left seat, with an instructor in the right seat.

Witnesses at Mareeba Airport observed the aircraft touch down on the runway, accelerate and take off again. After take-off, the aircraft climbed to about 100–150 feet above ground level before entering the right descending turn.

“The ATSB found that shortly after take-off, the flight instructor very likely conducted a simulated failure of the right engine on a warm, humid day at a high aerodrome elevation in a configuration in which the aircraft was unable to maintain altitude with one engine inoperative,” said ATSB Director Transport Safety Dr Stuart Godley.

“Power was not immediately restored to the right engine to discontinue the exercise and the pilots were unable to maintain altitude or heading, particularly with the aircraft banked towards the inoperative engine,” Dr Godley said.

“The pilots did not reduce power and land ahead, as required by the aircraft’s flight manual, resulting in a loss of directional control and the aircraft rolling to the right. The loss of control occurred at a height too low to recover and the aircraft impacted terrain in a cornfield 475 metres north of the runway.”

Neither the pilot nor the instructor had any recent experience in the aircraft, which had not been flown regularly for more than two years, the investigation notes.

In addition, the pilot had not flown for three years before the accident, which likely resulted in a decay of skills at managing tasks such as an engine failure after take-off, while the instructor had limited experience in multi-engine aeroplanes with retractable landing gear, and had only once before flown the Angel 44 aircraft, several years earlier.

As a consequence, the investigation notes that the instructor was likely unfamiliar with the time necessary for the landing gear and flaps to retract – approximately 14 seconds, significantly longer than other aircraft the instructor had flown – and the associated detrimental effect that extended flaps and landing gear had on the aircraft’s single-engine climb performance.

“In light twin-engine aeroplanes, loss of power on one engine shortly after take-off poses a high risk due to low height above ground, low airspeed and generally limited single-engine climb performance,” Dr Godley said.

“When conducting simulated engine failures, it is essential that pilots understand the risks and ensure effective controls are in place to prevent the simulation turning into a loss of control at low level, where recovery will probably not be possible.

“Attempting to continue flight with one engine inoperative in a multi-engine aeroplane when directional control cannot be maintained, carries a high risk of an accident and fatal injuries.”

Dr Godley said the ATSB assessed whether the accident occurred following a simulated or real engine failure, as witnesses reported hearing an engine ‘splutter’ sound.

However, no evidence of a complete power loss was found, with both engines producing power at the time of impact, and with the ‘splutter’ consistent with simulation of an engine failure by rapidly retarding the throttle.

Nonetheless, investigators established that two of the fuel injectors in the right engine showed evidence of partial blockage by corrosion particles. That would have resulted in the over-fuelling of the other injectors and the engine running overly rich, backfiring, and reducing the maximum power available.

In the two years the aircraft had not been flown, its engines had not been preserved in accordance with the manufacturer’s procedures, the investigation notes.

“If an aircraft is not flown regularly, the airframe and engine/s need to be preserved in accordance with the manufacturer’s procedures,” Dr Godley noted.

Read the investigation report AO-2019-072: Loss of control and collision with terrain involving Angel Aircraft Corporation 44, VH-IAZ, near Mareeba Airport, Queensland, on 14 December 2019

Last update 21 October 2020

Final report

AO-2019-072: Loss of control and collision with terrain involving Angel Aircraft Corporation 44, VH-IAZ, near Mareeba Airport, Queensland, on 14 December 2019