Pilot ignored weather warnings, says report

 

Australian Piper PA31-350 was ill-equipped for reported icing conditions in Victoria

The pilot of a Piper PA31-350 Navajo Chieftain that crashed at a ski resort in Victoria, Australia last month flew into known hazardous weather despite the aircraft not being equipped for such conditions. The pilot also proceeded with the flight after two aircraft earlier the same day were unable to complete global navigation satellite system (GNSS) approaches at the destination airport due to the conditions.

The Chieftain, on a visual flight rules flight from Melbourne’s Essendon airport, crashed into a tree covered ridge, 5km (2.7nm) southeast of Mount Hotham aerodrome, killing the pilot and two passengers, according to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s (ATSB) preliminary report into the 8 July crash.

Although the ATSB cannot comment at this stage on the approach used, industry sources suggest the pilot was conducting his own global positioning system approach that followed a road rather than the published route.

Before taking off from Essendon the pilot amended his destination to Wangaratta due to reports of adverse weather at Mount Hotham. During the flight, however, the pilot changed his destination to Mount Hotham, despite being told twice directly by the airport manager and once via the Flightwatch radio service that he would be unable to land the aircraft, which was not equipped for flight into forecast or known icing conditions.

The aerodrome was experiencing low cloud, poor visibility and snow showers, and icing conditions were predicted. Despite this, the pilot continued to Mount Hotham, informing the Flightwatch operator that “our customer [a Queensland property developer] is keen to have a look at it.”

Earlier that day a Bombardier Dash 8 and a Cessna Citation had attempted GNSS approaches to the aerodrome, but the aircraft diverted as the crews were unable to establish visual reference at the cloud and visibility minima, says the ATSB.

The pilot of the Chieftain requested a change of flight category to instrument flight rules to conduct a GNSS approach, but he did not follow the published procedure, says the ATSB, despite GNSS working properly at the time. The pilot believed he was on final approach to Mount Hotham when the aircraft crashed into a steep slope. At the time of the crash there were snow showers and an unbroken cloud base at between 100ft and 200ft (30m and 60m). Visibility was 300m with a temperature of 0°C (32°F).

EMMA KELLY/PERTH

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Snow smash pilot ‘unsafe’

BY KRISTY GRANT

 

Police search and rescue officers at the wreckage of the plane.
 

UNSAFE practices by a pilot who ignored a severe weather warning led to his plane flying into a rise near Mt Hotham killing him and two passengers, an investigation has found.

The Piper Navajo Chieftain crashed during a snowstorm as the pilot attempted to land at Mt Hotham on July 8 last year.

The bodies of Gold Coast developer Brian Ray, his wife Kathy and Geelong pilot Russell Lee were found in the crashed plane three days later.

A report released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau yesterday found a phenomenon known as flat light had also contributed to the fatality.

Flat light can affect a pilot’s perception of depth, distance, altitude and topographical features, making it impossible to distinguish features on a snowy mountain slope.

The report said the chartered flight had left Essendon with an intended flight plan to land at Mt Hotham.

While taxiing out of the airport Mr Lee requested and was granted an amended flight plan to land at Wangaratta as there was adverse weather on the mountain.

But minutes later he changed his landing location back to Mt Hotham and requested the operator advise Mt Hotham of its arrival.

The airport manager, who was also an accredited meteorological observer, told the Flightwatch operator that the aircraft would be unable to land due to the weather conditions.

The investigation found Mr Lee had switched from a visual to an instrument landing, but that the conditions were not suitable for the landing.

Mr Lee requested the runway lights be switched on. That was the last that was heard from the plane.

Weather reports from the day show sleet and snow showers with visibility to 300m and an unbroken cloud base between 30 and 60m.

The report said weather conditions on the day were ideal for the flat light phenomenon.

“The pilot may have experienced disorientation and loss of situational awareness,” it stated.

Staff at Mt Hotham airport had witnessed the pilot land previously in unsuitable weather conditions.

“The pilot was known, by his chief pilot and others, to adopt non-standard approach procedures to establish his aircraft clear of cloud when adverse weather conditions existed at Mt Hotham,” the report stated.

“This accident highlights the unsafe nature of such practices.

“The investigation was unable to determine why the pilot persisted with his attempt to land at Mt Hotham in such adverse weather conditions.

“However, it is possible that over-confidence and commercial or family pressures influenced the pilot’s decision making.”

ATSB advised the Civil Aviation Safety Authority review its surveillance methods, which may include co-operation with Airservices Australia, to detect patterns of unsafe flying practices and non-compliance with regulatory requirements.

 

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