Aviation safety investigations & reports

Collision with terrain involving Cessna 441, VH-XMJ, near Renmark Airport, South Australia on 30 May 2017

Investigation number:
Status: Active
Investigation in progress
Phase: Final report: External review Read more information on this investigation phase

Preliminary report

Preliminary report published: 30 June 2017

At about 1503 CST[1] on 30 May 2017, Cessna 441 Conquest aircraft, registered VH-XMJ (XMJ), and operated by Rossair Charter, departed Adelaide International Airport, for Renmark Airport, South Australia.

On-board were:

  • an inductee pilot undergoing a proficiency check, flying from the front left control seat
  • the chief pilot conducting the proficiency check, and under assessment for the company training and checking role for Cessna 441 aircraft, seated in the front right control seat
  • a flying operations inspector from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, observing and assessing the flight from the first passenger seat directly behind the two control seats.

Each occupant was qualified to operate the Cessna 441.

On departure, XMJ climbed to about 17,000 ft above mean sea level, and was cleared by air traffic control (ATC) to a tracking waypoint RENWB, which was the commencement of the Renmark runway 07[2] RNAV-Z GNSS[3] approach. The pilot of XMJ was then cleared to descend, and notified ATC that they intended to carry out airwork in the Renmark area. The pilot further advised that they would call ATC again on the completion of the airwork, or at the latest by 1615. No further transmissions from XMJ were recorded on the area frequency and the aircraft left radar coverage as it descended towards waypoint RENWB.

The common traffic advisory frequency used for air to air communications in the vicinity of Renmark Airport recorded several further transmissions from XMJ as the crew conducted practice holding patterns, and a practice runway 07 RNAV GNSS approach. At the completion of the approach, the aircraft circled for the opposite runway and landed on runway 25, before backtracking the runway and lining up ready for departure. Although outside radar coverage, position and altitude information continued to be transmitted via OzRunways[4], operating on an iPad in the aircraft. The weather information recorded at Renmark around this time was clear skies, south-to-south westerly winds of about 9 kt, and a temperature of 13°C.

At 1614, the common traffic advisory frequency recorded a transmission from the pilot of XMJ stating that they would shortly depart Renmark using runway 25 to conduct further airwork in the circuit area of the runway. A witness at the airport reported that, prior to the take‑off roll, the aircraft was briefly held stationary in the lined‑up position with the engines operating at significant power. The take-off roll was described as normal however, the witness looked away before the aircraft became airborne.

Figure 1: Position information of VH-XMJ as the aircraft circled and landed on runway 25 (depicted in red), before backtracking and departing (depicted in green).

Figure 1: Position information of VH-XMJ as the aircraft circled and landed on runway 25 (depicted in red), before backtracking and departing (depicted in green).

Source: OzRunways

Position and altitude information obtained from OzRunways showed the aircraft maintained runway heading until reaching about 400 ft, before veering to the right of the extended runway centreline. The aircraft continued to climb to about 700 ft prior to levelling off for about 30 seconds, and then descending to about 600 ft. The information ceased 5 seconds later, about 60 seconds after take-off. The last recorded information had the aircraft at an altitude of 600 ft, and 22 degrees to the right of the runway extended centreline. The aircraft wreckage was located 228 m to the north-west of the last recorded position, about 3 km from the take-off point.

Figure 2: Altitude information of VH-XMJ – (each vertical line represents 5 seconds)

Figure 2: Altitude information of VH-XMJ – (each vertical line represents 5 seconds)

Source: OzRunways

On-site examination of the wreckage and surrounding ground markings indicated that the aircraft impacted terrain in a very steep (almost vertical) nose‑down attitude, and came to rest facing back towards the departure runway. The horizontal and vertical tail surfaces and empennage separated from the main cabin directly behind the rear pressure bulkhead, and the cockpit and instrument panel were extensively damaged. The remaining aircraft cabin had separated from the wing. The left hand propeller blades separated at the propeller hub. The right hand propeller blade tips separated, however the blades remained attached to the hub. A strong smell and presence of jet fuel was evident at the accident site, however there was no evidence of fire. The aircraft was not equipped with a flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder, nor was it required to be.

Both engine, gearbox and propeller assemblies, along with several other components and documentation, were removed from the accident site for further examination by the ATSB.

The investigation is continuing and will include examination of:

  • recovered components and available electronic data
  • aircraft, operator, and maintenance documentation and procedures
  • flight crew information
  • flight manoeuvres being carried out during the check flight and flight characteristics of the aircraft
  • aircraft weight and balance
  • risk assessments carried out when planning the flight
  • previous research, and similar occurrences.

The information contained in this web update is released in accordance with section 25 of the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 and is derived from the initial investigation of the occurrence. Readers are cautioned that new evidence will become available as the investigation progresses that will enhance the ATSB's understanding of the accident as outlined in this web update. As such, no analysis or findings are included in this update.



  1. Central Standard Time (CST) was Universal Calibrated Time (UTC) +9.5 hours
  2. Runway number: the number represents the magnetic heading of the runway.
  3. An RNAV approach is a method of navigation utilising GPS that enables a pilot to guide his aircraft to a landing in low visibility situations. It is often practiced during check flights to ensure proficiency.
  4. OzRunways is an electronic flight bag application that provides navigation, weather, area briefings, and other flight planning information.


Published: 31 May 2017

The ATSB is investigating a fatal aircraft accident involving a Cessna Conquest 441 aircraft, registered VH-XMJ, that occurred near Renmark Airport, South Australia on 30 May 2017.

The aircraft was reportedly conducting a training flight and collided with terrain shortly after departure from runway 25. All three occupants on board were fatally injured.

The ATSB has deployed a team of five investigators to the accident site with expertise that includes aircraft operation and maintenance.

The team will be examining the site and wreckage, gathering recorded data including radio and radar, and interviewing witnesses.

The ATSB will issue a preliminary report outlining the facts of the accident within 30 days and present the findings of its investigation in a final report, which will be released at the conclusion of its investigation.


General details
Date: 30 May 2017   Investigation status: Active  
Time: 16:17 CST   Investigation level: Systemic - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): near Renmark Airport   Investigation phase: Final report: External review  
State: South Australia   Occurrence type: Collision with terrain  
Release date: 30 June 2017   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Preliminary   Highest injury level: Fatal  
Anticipated completion: 2nd Quarter 2020    

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Cessna Aircraft Company  
Aircraft model 441  
Aircraft registration VH-XMJ  
Serial number 4410113  
Operator Rossair Charter  
Type of operation Flying Training  
Sector Turboprop  
Damage to aircraft Substantial  
Departure point Adelaide International Airport, South Australia  
Destination Renmark Airport, South Australia  
Last update 03 April 2020