The ATSB has released its report into a fatal crash in Northern NSW.
The ATSB has released its report into a fatal crash in Northern NSW.

Pilot likely ‘spatially disorientated’ before fatal crash

A pilot flying through the Northern Rivers stopped for a short time due to bad weather before the fatal decision to continue toward Queensland.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has released its report into the fatal crash of a light aircraft as it attempted to cross the McPherson Range on January 12, 2020.

The owner-pilot of an amateur-built Wittman Tailwind aircraft left Evans Head with one passenger on a private flight destined for Boonah, Queensland that afternoon.

They had travelled for a fly-in at Evans Head, but this was curtailed due to a poor weather forecast.

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The pilot initially flew toward Boonah but undertook a steep turn over Kyogle shortly before 2pm and diverted south toward Casino, due to the weather.

They landed in Casino at 2.06pm but took off from there almost an hour later.

About 3.15pm, the aircraft "commenced a series of rapid descents and climbs followed by a descending left turn", the ATSB said.

"The turn and descent continued until (the aircraft) collided with terrain," the report said.

"The pilot and passenger were fatally injured, and the aircraft was destroyed."

The aircraft impacted a ridge line within Tooloom National Park near the Queensland border.

"The ATSB found that the pilot, who was operating under visual flight rules, departed Casino with a high risk of encountering forecast cloud," ATSB director of transport safety Stuart Macleod said.

"Weather-related decision-making can be highly complex and therefore more prone to errors.

"Unfortunately, weather-related general aviation accidents remain one of the ATSB's most significant causes for concern."

Data from the final four minutes of the flight indicated the plane's groundspeed and rate of climb and descent varied significantly.

"En route to Boonah, the aircraft encountered reduced visibility and the pilot likely became spatially disorientated, resulting in a loss of control," Mr Macleod said.

He said a recent ATSB safety campaign was developed to remind visual flight rules pilots of the dangers of flying in difficult weather conditions.