• The wreckage of VH-WTQ at Middle Island the day after the crash. (ATSB)
    The wreckage of VH-WTQ at Middle Island the day after the crash. (ATSB)

The fatal crash of a charter Cessna 172 at Middle Island, QLD, in January 2017 has prompted the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) to issue a warning to pilots about turns after engine failure.

VH-WTQ was on a charter flight from Agnes Waters to Middle Island when it suffered an engine failure whilst doing a precautionary search over a beach ALA. The pilot elected to turn towards the beach, but the aircraft crashed in a nose-down position in a banked turn. Three people were injured and one of the rear-seat passengers was killed.

In the investigation report released today, the ATSB was unable to determine the cause of the power loss in the engine, but listed the pilot's decision to make a significant turn at very low altitude among the contributing factors.

"This tragic accident reinforces standard pilot training and guidance that, following an engine power loss at a low height, an emergency landing should, in most cases, be planned straight ahead with only small changes in direction to avoid obstructions,” ATSB Chief Commissioner Greg Hood said. 

“Operators and pilots should review their flight procedures to ensure that straight-ahead emergency landings are possible when their aircraft are at a low height. If such landings are not possible, then the suitability of the flight should be evaluated.

“Regardless of the reasons why it occurred, an engine power loss should not necessarily lead to catastrophic consequences, even in a single-engine aircraft.”

According to the ATSB investigators, VH-WTQ was also at least 17 kg above its maximum take-off weight. The report also focused on the operator's airfield inspection procedures, which the ATSB believes did not allow for the consequences of an engine failure in the process. There were other anomalies noted, but the ATSB did not consider that they impacted the outcome of the crash.

It also found further scope for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to improve its surveillance activities of small operators. The reports notes that although the operator had been engaged in flying to remote ALAs since 2009, CASA had not examined the operator's procedures for those ALAs.

The full investigation report is on the ATSB website.

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