Pilot likely forgot about powerline across runway approach

The pilot of a Cessna that struck a wire while on approach to land at their rural property likely lost awareness of and did not see the powerline, an ATSB investigation report details.

On the afternoon of 8 October 2023, the Cessna 172N had taken off from a property near Merriton, South Australia for a private flight with a pilot and passenger on board. Returning to the property later that afternoon, the aircraft struck the single-wire powerline during the approach to land.

The aircraft subsequently collided with the ground and an intense fuel-fed fire broke out. Both occupants were removed by rescuers, who sustained burns as a result. The passenger was fatally injured in the accident, and the pilot, who was the owner of the aircraft and the property, later succumbed to injuries.

The 700 m grass runway had been positioned in a paddock such that one end was near an oblique powerline. Landing to that end of the runway meant the powerline was in the path of approaching aircraft, unless aiming to land about halfway down the runway (well within the landing distance required for the aircraft).

“The pilot likely lost awareness of the powerline, which was not marked in a manner sufficient to enhance visibility for pilots using the runway – nor was there a requirement to do so,” ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell said.

“This highlights the importance that airstrips on rural properties should be well separated from powerlines, even when the strip is only intended for use by pilots familiar with the wires.”

Power and telecommunication companies in Australia can mark powerlines that are identified as a hazard for low-level flying operations, the investigation report notes.

“In South Australia, property owners can request a quote from SA Power Networks for the installation of powerline markers, while some power companies in Queensland and New South Wales have schemes to reduce the costs of markers to property owners,” Mr Mitchell noted.

“We urge all rural property owners to consider the hazards of powerlines near airstrips on their properties, and to ensure wires are properly marked.”

Separately, pilots flying in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia can make use of the Look up and live website or app to plan flying operations in proximity to powerlines.

In addition, an ATSB educational publication, developed in association with the Aerial Application Association of Australia – Wirestrikes involving known wires: A manageable aerial agriculture hazard – details numerous wirestrike accidents and the lessons that can be learned from them.

“Powerlines, especially single wires, are notoriously difficult to see from the air, and pose an on‑going hazard to aircraft, as this tragic accident shows,” Mr Mitchell said.

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