Aviation safety investigations & reports

Loss of control and collision with terrain, Cessna 150, VH-RXU 270 km SE Alice Springs, Northern Territory, on 12 July 2016

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed

Final Report

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What happened

On 12 July 2016, the pilot of a Cessna 150 aircraft, registered VH-RXU, was conducting cattle spotting operations at New Crown Station, about 270 km south-east of Alice Springs, Northern Territory. The aircraft was observed conducting turning manoeuvres over the cattle at a reported altitude of about 500 ft.

A stockman recalled that, immediately preceding the accident, the pilot was directing them by radio to a breakaway herd of cattle in a nearby riverbed. The stockman observed the aircraft in a right turn moments before hearing it impact the ground, meters from their position.

For reasons that could not be determined, the pilot lost control of the aircraft and was unable to arrest the descent before the aircraft impacted the ground heavily. The pilot was the sole occupant on-board the aircraft and was fatally injured. The aircraft sustained significant damage.

What the ATSB found

The pilot lost control of the aircraft after commencing a right turn. While the actual events preceding the loss of control could not be concluded, the aircraft was likely operated at a slow airspeed with reduced stall margins. In the absence of other physical evidence, it was possible that control inputs made by the pilot induced a stall and incipient spin at an altitude that was not recoverable.   

The pilot was not using the full lap/sash occupant restraint at the time of impact. The extent of injuries sustained by the pilot during the impact probably would have reduced if the sash portion of the restraint were used. This would likely have improved pilot survivability.

The fuel type used by the operator and pilot was not approved for use in VH-RXU. Although probably not contributing to the loss of control, it increased the risk of carburettor icing and formation of vapour in the fuel system. 

What's been done as a result

The operator advised that since the accident, only the grade/type of fuel approved for use in the aircraft would be used.

Safety message

Turning manoeuvres at or close to the aircraft’s critical angle of attack, if mishandled, can lead to a stall that may result in the aircraft entering a spin. Recovery from this condition will take a considerable amount of altitude, dependant on the speed of response by the pilot and the use of appropriate control inputs.

Pilots need to assess the operational risks associated with not using full lap/sash restraints. The appropriate use of these restraints would prevent more serious deceleration injuries in the event of an accident.

To ensure engine performance, pilots and operators must ensure that the fuel used is of the correct grade/type for the aircraft, and is free of contaminants.


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[Download  PDF: 1.71MB]

The occurrence


Safety analysis


Sources and submissions


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General details
Date: 12 July 2016   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 11:30 CST   Investigation level: Defined - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): 270 km south-east Alice Springs    
State: South Australia   Occurrence type: Collision with terrain  
Release date: 28 July 2017   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Fatal  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Cessna Aircraft Company  
Aircraft model 150G  
Aircraft registration VH-RXU  
Serial number 15066748  
Type of operation Aerial Work  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Substantial  
Departure point New Crown Station SA  
Destination New Crown Station SA  
Last update 14 November 2018