The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released a preliminary report from its on-going investigation into a fatal light aircraft accident west of Brisbane in August.
On 28 August 2022, the Cessna R182 Skylane RG, operated by Executive Helicopters, was returning to Archerfield Airport from a private property north-east of Roma, with a pilot and two passengers on board, flying under visual flight rules (VFR).
When the aircraft did not arrive as expected, a search was coordinated by Airservices Australia and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. The wreckage was located later that afternoon within the D’Aguilar Range on a steep section of wooded mountainous terrain. The aircraft was destroyed and all occupants were fatally injured.
“Today’s preliminary report details factual information established in the investigation’s early evidence collection phase,” ATSB Director Transport Safety Stuart Macleod said.
“It has been prepared to provide timely information to the industry and public, and contains no analysis or findings, which will be detailed in the final report.”
To date the ATSB has examined the accident site and wreckage, interviewed witnesses, collected meteorological data, aircraft maintenance and pilot records, and obtained flight tracking data.
The weather forecast available from the Bureau of Meteorology at the time of the aircraft’s departure indicated that the route to Archerfield could be affected by low cloud, rain, fog and associated reduced visibility.
Flight tracking data showed the aircraft attempted to pass over the Biarra Range at a low height above the ground. Shortly after, the aircraft made a 180° turn, climbed and flew to Dalby Airport where it landed and refuelled. It departed again for Archerfield 11 minutes later.
The preliminary report then details the aircraft’s flight path over the subsequent 55 minutes, during which it passed over rising terrain, mountain ridges and a hill at heights as low as 200 ft above ground level (AGL).
Prior to the collision with terrain, the aircraft had progressed down a valley near Fernvale, completing another 180° turn while climbing to 1,000 ft AGL. After the turn, the aircraft descended to 600 ft AGL before turning right, back towards the D’Aguilar Range. It was during this turn that the aircraft impacted terrain.
“The aircraft was equipped for flight under both VFR and instrument flight rules, and the pilot previously held an aeroplane instrument rating, but this was not current as the last renewal was completed in October 2002,” Mr Macleod said.
Several witnesses along the aircraft’s route from Dalby recalled seeing the aircraft flying at low altitude below cloud.
One witness at Fernvale reported the aircraft flying at low altitude while heading east towards the D’Aguilar Range with the wings level and undercarriage retracted, before banking left and disappearing from view as it was obscured by cloud. The witness also reported heavy low cloud, very light rain, and fog covering Fernvale and the surrounding area at the time.
The ATSB’s on-site examination indicated the aircraft’s engine was providing power at impact, with the landing gear and flaps in the retracted position. There was no evidence of an in-flight break-up or a pre-existing defect with the flight controls.
“The investigation is continuing and will include a further review and examination of pilot records and medical information, aircraft maintenance and flight records, operator procedures, meteorological data and recorded data,” Mr Macleod said.
A final report will be released at the conclusion of the investigation.
“However, should a critical safety issue be identified at any time during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties so appropriate and timely safety action can be taken.”