Aviation safety investigations & reports

VFR into IMC involving a PA28 aircraft, VH-TAU, near Latrobe Valley Airport, Victoria on 8 September 2015

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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The pilot planned a navigation exercise from Moorabbin Airport, overhead Yarram ALA and then onto Bairnsdale Airport. The return leg to Moorabbin was via Latrobe Valley Airport, Victoria. The pilot reviewed the Area 30 weather forecast, and also discussed the weather and flight with a senior instructor at the school prior to departing in a Piper Warrior aircraft, registered VH-TAU.

About 15 NM into the initial leg of the flight, the pilot reported noticing cloud around the ranges, with their base at about 3000 ft, which was the same level as the aircraft. As the weather continued to deteriorate, the pilot diverted around some of the cloud before making a decision to conduct a 180° turn and return to Moorabbin. As the pilot commenced the turn, the aircraft entered cloud. The pilot was not instrument rated, nor was the aircraft approved for flight in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC).

A short time later, the pilot called ATC for assistance. ATC were able to gain the support of an experienced instructor who was conducting dual IFR training in a Cirrus in the area.

Through a combination of mentoring by the instructor in the Cirrus, and assistance by ATC, the pilot was able to climb through a thick bank of cloud, above the lowest safe altitude, until clear on top at about 6,500 ft.

Working as a team and with the instructor gaining all the necessary airways clearances, the two aircraft returned to a position clear of cloud to the west of Moorabbin. From here, the pilot in VH-TAU was able to complete the descent and approach and land without incident.

This occurrence highlights the importance of seeking assistance from ATC as soon as a pilot finds themselves in difficulty. The ATSB SafetyWatch highlights the broad safety concerns that come out of investigation findings and from the occurrence data reported to us by industry. Flying with reduced visual cues such as in this occurrence remains one of the ATSB’s major safety concerns.

Number 4 in the Avoidable Accident series published by the ATSB titled ‘Accidents involving pilots in Instrument Meteorological Conditions’ lists three key messages for pilots:

  • Avoid deteriorating weather or IMC requires thorough pre-flight planning, having alternate plans in case of an unexpected deterioration in the weather, and making timely decisions to turn back or divert
  • Pressing on into IMC conditions with no instrument rating carries a significant risk of severe spatial disorientation due to powerful and misleading orientation sensations in the absence of visual cues. Disorientation can affect any pilot, no matter what their level of experience
  • VFR pilots are encourage to use a ‘personal minimums’ checklist to help control and manage flight risks through identifying risk factors that include marginal weather conditions.

Available from CASA’s online store are:

Weather to Fly – This DVD highlights the dangers of flying in cloud, and how to avoid VFR into IMC.

Flight Planning – always thinking ahead. A flight-planning guide designed to help you in planning and conducting your flight. This guide includes a ‘personal minimums checklist.


Aviation Short Investigations Bulletin - Issue 47

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General details
Date: 08 September 2015   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1313 EST   Investigation level: Short - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Latrobe Valley Airport    
State: Victoria   Occurrence type: VFR into IMC  
Release date: 13 April 2016   Occurrence category: Serious Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft 1 details

Aircraft 1 details
Aircraft manufacturer Piper Aircraft Corp  
Aircraft model PA-28-161  
Aircraft registration VH-TAU  
Serial number 2842209  
Sector Piston  
Departure point Moorabbin, Vic.  
Destination Bairnsdale, Vic.  

Aircraft 2 details

Aircraft 2 details
Aircraft manufacturer Cirrus Design Corporation  
Aircraft model SR22  
Aircraft registration VH-QQT  
Serial number 3139  
Type of operation Flying Training  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Nil  
Departure point Moorabbin, Vic.  
Destination Latrobe Valley, Vic.  
Last update 14 November 2018