The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is reminding pilots of the importance of thorough pre-flight planning to avoid the possibility of flying into bad weather after an accident in near Ballina, NSW in 2017.
On 16 June, a Cessna 172 was flying on a private flight from Southport, Queensland to a maintenance facility at Ballina, NSW when it entered an area of cloud, fog and drizzle. The aircraft diverted off the initial track and disappeared into cloud heading inland. A short time later the aircraft collided with terrain and the pilot was killed.
The ATSB found the pilot had probably become spatially disoriented, resulting in loss of control and a collision with terrain. The pilot, ‘was reported to be diligent with checking weather conditions on a regular basis,’ the ATSB said, but had not checked his Airservices Australia National Aeronautical Information Processing System (NAIPS) account since the previous afternoon and had reported trouble logging into NAIPS on the morning of the crash. The investigation was unable to determine if the pilot had obtained en-route weather information from other sources.
The ATSB also found that the pilot was under some degree of self-imposed pressure to continue with the flight, despite the inclement weather conditions, after having rescheduled his maintenance booking twice and with the aircraft’s maintenance release due to expire. (He could, however, have flown the aircraft after expiry by applying for a special flight permit.)
‘Weather-related accidents remain one of the most significant causes of fatal accidents in general aviation,’ the ATSB reported.
ATSB Executive Director Transport Safety Nat Nagy said, ‘The ATSB’s safety messages from this investigation are clear: visual flight rules pilots should conduct thorough pre-flight planning to avoid the possibility of flying into bad weather. They should also make alternate plans in case weather deteriorates, and make timely decisions about diverting or turning back.
‘If visual flight rules pilots do find themselves in deteriorating weather and become disoriented or lost, they should seek whatever help is available including contacting air traffic control. This simple action has averted potential disaster in many instances.’
Inflight decision-making is one of the ATSB’s SafetyWatch priorities, particularly regarding pilots flying with reduced visual reference. One of the key messages of SafetyWatch is on the use of ‘personal minimums’ checklists. VFR pilots should use a checklist to help control and manage flight risks by identifying risk factors that include marginal weather conditions and only fly in environments that do not exceed their capabilities.