Marine safety investigations & reports

Collision with a tree involving the airboat Gale Force, Sweets Lagoon, Northern Territory, on 22 June 2019

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

Final Report

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[Download  PDF: 472KB]
Alternate: [Download  DOCX: 986KB]

What happened

On 22 June 2019, the airboat Gale Force was operating on a wetlands tour. The tour involved sections of at-speed driving through Sweets Lagoon, 55 km to the south-west of Darwin, Northern Territory. The tour was along a well-defined, at times shallow, muddy and vegetation-covered watercourse through open swampland. While negotiating a turn, control of the airboat was lost, resulting in collision with a tree. The airboat driver and the four passengers on board were injured. The airboat was damaged and disabled, requiring removal ashore for repair.

The passengers and the airboat driver received first aid and were evacuated to Darwin for further treatment. The airboat driver and two of the four passengers were taken to Darwin hospital for treatment and were discharged later that day. The remaining two passengers only required first aid.

What the ATSB found

While negotiating a turn to starboard, the airboat was slightly off-track with insufficient reserve engine power to drive the boat safely through the turn. The stern likely rode up and skipped over the mud and plant surface, control was lost, leading to the airboat spinning and impacting the tree stern-first on the starboard side.

The ATSB also identified that operational limitations, such as safe speed, which would have reduced the likelihood of the collision and reduced the injury consequences, had not been fully identified and implemented.

What's been done as a result

Outback Floatplane Adventures have updated safety management system procedures and requirements to better reflect the company’s focus away from ‘adrenaline‑based’, toward ‘nature‑based’ tours. Specific airboat training, guidance and competency requirements have been implemented along with updated emergency procedures. Prior to taking command, airboat skippers are to be competent in operating the designated airboat in specific tour areas.

Safety message

All business operations should be carefully and regularly assessed for risk. Such assessments should include specific, targeted appraisal of vessel operations as well as the suitability of passengers to undertake tours. In addition to responding to an emergency situation, particular attention should be paid to identifying and implementing safety controls to reduce the likelihood and consequence of an incident.

Download final report
[Download  PDF: 472KB]
Alternate: [Download  DOCX: 986KB]

The occurrence

General details
Date: 22 June 2019   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1010 CST   Investigation level: Short - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Sweets Lagoon, 55 km south-west of Darwin   Investigation phase: Final report: Dissemination  
State: Northern Territory    
Release date: 26 June 2020   Occurrence category: Serious Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Serious  

Vessel details

Vessel details
Operator Outback Floatplane Adventures  
Vessel Gale Force  
Flag Australia  
IMO Australian vessel unique identifier number 429374  
Sector Other  
Type of operation Tourism  
Damage to vessel Substantial  
Departure point Sweets Lagoon, Northern Territory  
Destination Sweets Lagoon, Northern Territory  
Last update 26 June 2020