Fatal wirestrike investigation highlights hazards of low-level flight

  • Pilot of a Cessna 172 was fatally injured when their aircraft contacted wires above a field adjacent to Coonabarabran Aerodrome during an intentional low-level pass;
  • Pilot was not wearing upper torso restraint, however it was not possible to determine whether this could have prevented fatal injuries.

A Cessna 172 pilot was very likely conducting an intentional low-level pass over a tractor before their aircraft struck a powerline, an Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation details.

The Cessna, with a single pilot on board, had been conducting circuits at Coonabarabran Aerodrome on 18 April 2022, before it contacted powerlines and impacted terrain. The pilot was fatally injured and the aircraft was destroyed.

“After completing several touch-and-go landings, the pilot flew a low pass at 15-25 feet above the ground over a tractor, which was working in a field adjacent to the aerodrome,” ATSB Director Transport Safety Dr Mike Walker said.

In the vicinity of an airfield operations at low level are normal during take-off and landing, however, the aircraft’s flight path just prior to the collision did not align with the runways, and was not consistent with a normal circuit pattern.

“It was therefore very likely the pilot was conducting an intentional low-level pass over the tractor,” Dr Walker said.

“Operations at low height expose an aircraft to several hazards like powerlines, which are typically very difficult to see and present a critical hazard to any low-flying aircraft,” Dr Walker said.

In recognition of this and other specific risks and hazards of low-level flying, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority requires pilots to hold a specific low-level rating before flying at low level.

“Even with appropriate training, flying at low-level carries a significant risk and should be avoided when there is no operational reason,” Dr Walker continued.

“For most private pilots, there is generally no reason to fly at low levels, except during take-off and landing, or conducting a forced or precautionary landing.”

The investigation also notes the pilot was found to be wearing only the lap portion of their seatbelt. However, it was not possible to determine with certainty whether, if worn, the seatbelt’s upper torso restraint would have reduced the severity of injuries.

“Nonetheless, pilots should always wear upper torso restraints where available,” Dr Walker said.

“Research has shown that wearing an upper torso restraint significantly reduces the risk of serious or fatal injury.”

You can find here the investigation report: AO-2022-027 Wirestrike and collision with terrain, involving Cessna 172, VH-REU, Coonabarabran Aerodrome, New South Wales, on 18 April 2022

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