The pilot of a Cessna Skylane that crashed in bad weather didn’t have a current licence to fly in poor conditions.
The findings form part of the ATSB’s preliminary investigation into the incident in August that killed all three onboard, though no definitive conclusion to the accident’s cause has yet been reached.
However, investigators were told how one witness reported seeing heavy, low cloud and fog near the crash site in Fernvale, South-East Queensland.
The ATSB’s director of transport safety, Stuart Macleod, said, “The aircraft was equipped for flight under both Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and instrument flight rules, and the pilot previously held an aeroplane instrument rating, but this was not current as the last renewal was completed in October 2002.” The pilot had significantly previously recorded 96 hours of instrument flying experience and 22 hours of night VFR experience.
The investigation detailed how the the Cessna R182 Skylane RG, operated by Executive Helicopters, was returning to Archerfield Airport from a private property north-east of Roma, with a pilot and two passengers on board, flying under VFR on 28 August 2022.
When the aircraft did not arrive as expected, a search was co-ordinated by Airservices Australia and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. The wreckage was located later that afternoon within the D’Aguilar Range on a steep section of wooded mountainous terrain. The aircraft was destroyed and all occupants were killed.
The weather forecast available from the Bureau of Meteorology at the time of the aircraft’s departure indicated that the route to Archerfield could be affected by low cloud, rain, fog and associated reduced visibility.
Flight tracking data showed the aircraft attempted to pass over the Biarra Range at a low height above the ground. Shortly after, the aircraft made a 180° turn, climbed and flew to Dalby Airport where it landed and refuelled. It departed again for Archerfield 11 minutes later.
The preliminary report then details the aircraft’s flight path over the subsequent 55 minutes, during which it passed over rising terrain, mountain ridges and a hill at heights as low as 200 ft above ground level (AGL).
Prior to the collision with terrain, the aircraft had progressed down a valley near Fernvale, completing another 180° turn while climbing to 1,000 ft AGL. After the turn, the aircraft descended to 600 ft AGL before turning right, back towards the D’Aguilar Range. It was during this turn that the aircraft impacted terrain.
Several witnesses along the aircraft’s route from Dalby recalled seeing the aircraft flying at low altitude below cloud.
One witness at Fernvale reported the aircraft flying at low altitude while heading east towards the D’Aguilar Range with the wings level and undercarriage retracted, before banking left and disappearing from view as it was obscured by cloud. The witness also reported heavy low cloud, very light rain, and fog covering Fernvale and the surrounding area at the time.
The ATSB’s on-site examination indicated the aircraft’s engine was providing power at impact, with the landing gear and flaps in the retracted position. There was no evidence of an in-flight break-up or a pre-existing defect with the flight controls.
“Today’s preliminary report details factual information established in the investigation’s early evidence collection phase,” said Macleod. “It has been prepared to provide timely information to the industry and public, and contains no analysis or findings, which will be detailed in the final report.”
To date the ATSB said it has examined the accident site and wreckage, interviewed witnesses, collected meteorological data, aircraft maintenance and pilot records, and obtained flight tracking data. The deceased included pilot Gary Liehm, agricultural leader Tom Strachan and his 20-year-old son Noah.