Aviation safety investigations & reports

VFR into IMC and loss of control involving Wittman Tailwind, VH-TWQ, Tooloom National Park, New South Wales, on 12 January 2020

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

Preliminary Report

Preliminary report published: 11 March 2020

The information contained in this investigation update is derived from the initial investigation of the occurrence. Readers are cautioned that there is the possibility that new evidence may become available that alters the circumstances as depicted in the report. 

What happened

On 12 January 2020, at 1336 Eastern Daylight-saving Time,[1] the pilot of an amateur-built Wittman Tailwind aircraft, registered VH-TWQ (TWQ), departed Evans Head Airport, New South Wales, with one passenger on board (Figure 1). The pilot was conducting a private flight under the visual flight rules[2] from Evans Head, New South Wales to Boonah, Queensland.

The pilot flew in a north-north-westerly direction towards Boonah via the Richmond River valley. At 1353, the pilot commenced a 180° turn overhead the township of Kyogle and diverted south back down the valley to Casino aerodrome, landing at 1406.

At 1454, the pilot took off from Casino and flew in a west-north-westerly direction. At 1511, TWQ commenced a left turn and, shortly afterwards, collided with terrain. The pilot and passenger were fatally injured and the aircraft was destroyed.

Figure 1: Flight tracks of VH-TWQ 12 January 2020

Image showing Flight tracks of VH-TWQ 12 January 2020
Source: Flightradar24 and Google annotated by the ATSB

Recorded data

The aircraft was fitted with a Mode S transponder that broadcast ADS-B data. This information included the position and altitude of the aircraft and was received by Flightradar24 and provided to the ATSB. Also on board was a mobile device with the OzRunways application installed. This application provides the option for live flight tracking by transmitting the device’s position and altitude and that option was enabled for this flight. OzRunways information was also obtained by the ATSB. The data indicated that the aircraft was travelling at approximately 170 kt ground speed and in a descending left turn just prior to the collision with terrain.

Wreckage examination

The accident site was located in rainforest, about 72 km west-north-west of Casino, within the Tooloom National Park. Examination of the wreckage indicated that the aircraft collided with a number of trees before coming to rest on the rainforest floor at an elevation of 996 m (3,169 ft) (Figure 2).

Figure 2: VH-TWQ’s empennage at the accident site

Image of VH-TWQ’s empennage at the accident site
Source: ATSB

The aircraft’s structure was substantially disrupted, with the wreckage trail on an approximate east to west heading and covering a length of about 120 metres. All major components were located at the accident site. Due to the disruption of the airframe, the aircraft’s attitude when it entered the tree canopy could not be determined. There was no evidence of fire.

Pilot details

The pilot held a Private Pilot (Aeroplane) Licence and was qualified to fly by day under the visual flight rules. The pilot also held a single-engine aeroplane class rating. The pilot last conducted a single-engine aeroplane flight review in June 2018 that was valid until June 2020. His logbook indicated he had a total of about 1,200 hours flying experience. The pilot held a Class 2 aviation medical certificate that was valid until October 2021.

Weather conditions

Forecast meteorological conditions valid for the accident flight included visibility of 10 km or greater and broken[3] cloud from 3,000 to 6,000 ft above mean sea level. Isolated rain and thunderstorms were also forecast, with associated reduced visibility and lower cloud bases. Widespread smoke was also forecast due to bush fires in the area, reducing visibility to 1,000‑8,000 m.

Ongoing investigation

The investigation is continuing and will include examination of:

  • meteorological conditions and pre‑flight preparation
  • pilot qualifications, experience
  • recovered wreckage, aircraft performance characteristics and recorded flight data
  • aircraft maintenance documentation and operational records.


The ATSB acknowledges the significant assistance provided by the New South Wales Police Force during the on-site phase of this investigation.


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




  1. Broken cloud is defined as cloud totalling 5 to 7 OKTAS meaning 5 to 7 eighths of the sky obscured by cloud.
  2. Eastern Daylight-saving Time (EDT): Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) +11 hours
  3. Visual flight rules (VFR): a set of regulations that permit a pilot to operate an aircraft only in weather conditions generally clear enough to allow the pilot to see where the aircraft is going.
General details
Date: 12 January 2020   Investigation status: Active  
Time: 14:53 EST   Investigation level: Defined - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Tooloom National Park, 53 km ENE from Stanthorpe   Investigation phase: Final report: External review  
State: New South Wales   Occurrence type: VFR into IMC  
Release date: 11 March 2020   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Preliminary   Highest injury level: Fatal  
Anticipated completion: 1st Quarter 2021    

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Amateur Built Aircraft  
Aircraft model Wittman Tailwind W10  
Aircraft registration VH-TWQ  
Serial number 05-1305  
Type of operation Private  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Destroyed  
Departure point Casino, New South Wales  
Destination Boonah, Queensland  
Last update 19 January 2021