Aviation safety investigations & reports

Collision with terrain involving Cessna 172, VH-CBB, 31 km west of Mittagong, New South Wales, on 22 March 2020

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

Final Report

Download final report
[Download  PDF: 233KB]

What happened

On 22 March 2020, a Cessna 172 aircraft, registered VH-CBB, took off from a private airfield in Canyonleigh, New South Wales, on a local private flight with the pilot and one passenger on board. Shortly after take-off, due to turbulent weather, the pilot decided to terminate the flight and return to land at the airfield. During the approach, while the aircraft was lower than the pilot had intended, it encountered turbulence. This resulted in the aircraft pitching up steeply. After the pilot corrected the aircraft’s pitch attitude, the landing gear contacted the tree canopy of a steep forested escarpment on the approach path and below the level of the runway threshold. Uncertain if the aircraft could climb above the canopy, the pilot elected to reduce power immediately and land in the trees. The pilot and passenger sustained serious injuries as a result, and the aircraft was substantially damaged.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB determined that the aircraft was on a relatively shallow approach and was at a low height above the terrain when it encountered turbulence. After recovering from the turbulence, the pilot assessed that the aircraft could not reach the runway over the steep terrain, and decided to land in trees.

Safety message

This accident highlights the importance of adopting an approach profile that mitigates the effects of gusty/turbulent conditions and being prepared to go around if the approach becomes unstable. The Flight Safety Foundation Approach-and-landing Accident Reduction briefing note 6.1 emphasises the need to be ‘go-around-prepared’ or ‘go‑around-minded’ because it is not a manoeuvre that pilots execute regularly.

Download final report
[Download  PDF: 233KB]

The investigation

General details
Date: 22 March 2020   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1323 EDT   Investigation level: Short - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): 31 km west of Mittagong   Investigation phase: Final report: Dissemination  
State: New South Wales   Occurrence type: Collision with terrain  
Release date: 11 November 2020   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Serious  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Cessna Aircraft Company  
Aircraft model 172A  
Aircraft registration VH-CBB  
Serial number 47716  
Type of operation Private  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Substantial  
Departure point Canyonleigh Airfield, New South Wales  
Destination Canyonleigh Airfield, New South Wales  
Last update 11 November 2020