Aviation safety investigations & reports

Collision with terrain involving Liberty Aerospace XL-2, VH-XLK, 9 km north-east of Braidwood, New South Wales, on 6 August 2019

Investigation number:
AO-2019-040
Status: Completed
Investigation completed
Phase: Final report: Dissemination Read more information on this investigation phase

Final Report

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What happened

On 6 August 2019, at 1103 Eastern Standard Time, a Liberty XL-2, registered VH-XLK, departed Moruya Airport, New South Wales, for a rural property near Braidwood. The pilot was the sole occupant and had been flying in company with another pilot.

The accompanying pilot landed their aircraft on a private landing area at the Braidwood property about 15 minutes prior to the arrival of VH-XLK. That pilot advised the pilot of VH-XLK by phone that the landing area was undulating and not suitable for the Liberty XL-2 aircraft type. At about 1126, witnesses on the ground observed VH-XLK circling the landing area with a slowing airspeed.

On the second orbit, at about 400 ft above ground level, and after crossing the marked end of the landing area, witnesses observed the left wing drop and the aircraft entered a steep rotating descent. The pilot was unable to recover control of the aircraft before it impacted terrain. The pilot sustained fatal injuries and the aircraft was destroyed.

What the ATSB found

Recorded data showed that the pilot was circling the landing area at a height of 200–400 ft. The ATSB also found that the aircraft departed controlled flight after slowing and turning downwind with no flap selected. The left wing stalled, and this resulted in the aircraft entering into an upright spin, at an altitude that limited an effective recovery.

An airworthiness directive requiring an inspection of the engine exhaust muffler had not been completed, however this did not contribute to the accident.

Safety message

The accident highlights the need for pilots to minimise the risk of aerodynamic stall, particularly when in proximity to the ground, such as during take-off and landing. 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. Pilots can limit their risk of losing control in flight by maintaining situational awareness of the aircraft state while conducting turns, maintaining adequate airspeed through appropriate power application during increased bank angles, and by selecting altitudes to operate at that provide sufficient height to recognise and recover from a stall.

In addition, aircraft owners should ensure that required maintenance and airworthiness directives are completed and recorded as they become due, to avoid invalidating the aircraft maintenance release and potentially increasing risk to flight safety.

Download final report
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The occurrence

Context

Safety analysis

Findings

Safety action

Sources and submissions

Appendices

Preliminary report

Preliminary report published: 8 October 2019

What happened

On 6 August 2019, at 1103 Eastern Standard Time,[1] a Liberty XL-2, registered VH-XLK (XLK), departed Moruya Airport, for a rural property near Braidwood, New South Wales (Figure 1). The pilot was the sole occupant and had been flying in company with another pilot and his aircraft on a social, multi-day touring flight of the New South Wales hinterland, alpine and southern coast regions.

The accompanying pilot landed his aircraft on a private landing area at the Braidwood property about 15 minutes prior to the arrival of XLK. That pilot advised the pilot of XLK that the landing area was undulating and not suitable for his aircraft type. At about 1126, witnesses on the ground (which included the accompanying pilot) observed XLK circling the landing area. On the second orbit, the aircraft was observed to slow and begin to lose height. At about 500 ft above ground level, and after crossing the marked end of the landing area, the left wing dropped and the aircraft entered a steep rotating descent. The pilot was unable to recover control of the aircraft before it impacted terrain.

Figure 1: Aircraft’s flight path and accident site location

 

Aircraft’s flight path and accident site location
Source: Google Earth. Modified by the ATSB

The witnesses at the landing area were first to arrive at the scene, however the pilot had sustained fatal injuries. The aircraft was destroyed.

Site and wreckage examination

The accident site was located in relatively flat and open farmland, approximately 9 km north-east of Braidwood (Figure 2). The ATSB conducted an examination of the site and wreckage and identified that the:

  • ground impact marks indicated that the aircraft had impacted terrain nose‑down, upright, with counter‑clockwise rotation
  • left wing separated from the airframe on impact with the terrain
  • flaps were in the retracted position.

No pre-impact defects were identified with the engine, flight controls or aircraft structure. The internal cabin fuel tank had ruptured and a quantity of fuel had leaked into the soil. There was no fire.

A damaged electronic flight bag was recovered from the accident site and an engine control unit was removed from the aircraft and taken to the ATSB’s technical facility in Canberra for examination.

Figure 2: Accident site

Accident site

Source: ATSB

Further investigation

The investigation is continuing and will include:

  • analysis of the downloaded data from the engine control unit and other electronic devices
  • examination of the aircraft flight instruments and a stabiliser trim component
  • examination of the pilot’s qualifications, experience and medical history
  • assessment of the aircraft’s flight performance characteristics
  • examination of aircraft maintenance and operational records.

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The information contained in this preliminary report 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 update. As such, no analysis or findings are included.

__________

  1. Eastern Standard Time (EST): Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) + 10 hours.
General details
Date: 06 August 2019   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1127 EST   Investigation level: Defined - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): 9 km north-east of Braidwood   Investigation phase: Final report: Dissemination  
State: New South Wales   Occurrence type: Collision with terrain  
Release date: 26 November 2020   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Fatal  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Liberty Aerospace Incorporated  
Aircraft model XL-2  
Aircraft registration VH-XLK  
Serial number 0106/2008  
Type of operation Private  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Destroyed  
Departure point Moruya Airport, New South Wales  
Destination Nerriga Road, Braidwood, New South Wales  
Last update 30 November 2020