When weather and terrain collude

On 14 September 2008, a Cessna Aircraft Co. U206A aircraft, registered VH-JDQ, with a pilot and two passengers on board, was on a private flight under the visual flight rules (VFR) from Bankstown, NSW, Australia to Archerfield, Qld, Australia with a planned stop at Scone, NSW. The aircraft was reported missing when it did not arrive at Archerfield as expected later that day.

Australian Search and Rescue was notified. The wreckage of the aircraft was located the following day a the top of a 3,800 ft ridge in rugged terrain, approximately 56 km north-north-east of Scone Airport. All three occupants were fatally injured and the aircraft was destroyed. The pilot had purchase the aircraft on the morning of the accident. The previous owner reported meeting with the pilot at Bankstown Airport for a handover of the aircraft, including the aircraft documentation. The previous owner stated that he performed a short check flight with the pilot so that the pilot could become familiar with the aircraft. He also stated that he gave the pilot detailed instructions on how to use the panel-mounted Garmin Global Positioning System (GPS) unit fitted to the aircraft.

The previous owner reported discussing the weather with the pilot, as there was a frontal system moving across NSW from the west. He reportedly advised the pilot to track along the coast to avoid any weather problems. Prior to the departure of the aircraft, the previous owner observed the pilot refuelling the aircraft and believed the pilot had completely filled the tanks. He then watched the aircraft depart, which he described as being normal.

The route selected by the pilot, to track from Scone to Archerfield via Casino, meant that the aircraft would track over the Great Dividing Range for most of the flight. The topography of most of that area was rugged, with thickly forested, mountainous terrain, at elevations greater than 4,000 ft above mean sea level (AMSL). The areas available for an emergency landing were limited.

Airservices Australia confirmed that the pilot did not have a National Areonautical Information Processing System (NAIPS) user identification to enable the pilot to access the system for flight briefing information. Before the trip to Sydney to pick up the aircraft, the pilot reportedly asked a flight instructor from the organisation where the pilot learned to fly, how he would obtain weather information. The instructor told the pilot to give him a call and he would find out the weather fo him on the morning of his departure from Sydney. The instructor reported that he did not receive a phone call with a request for weather from the pilot.

The weather in the area at the time of the occurrence was not suitable for VFR flight and included low cloud, rain showers and high winds. It is likely that the pilot was attempting to remain below the cloud base to maintain visual reference to the ground. The pilot’s licence allowed for day VFR flight only. The aircraft’s approximate heading at the time of impact indicated that the pilot may have been attempting to return to Scone due to the adverse weather conditions.

The aircraft’s wreckage trail indicated that the aircraft was travelling at approximately cruise speed and descending at a fairly low rate, if at all, when it impacted rising terrain at 3,800 AMSL. The evidence indicated that the aircraft was most likely in controlled flight at the time it impacted with trees.

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About Top Gun
I was fiercely attacked and was being defeated, but the Lord helped me. Psalms 118:13 Reach for the stars, not for anything less.

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