An ATSB investigation into the ditching of a Pel-Air aeromedical flight into the ocean off Norfolk Island in 2009 has cited a series of errors by the flight’s crew.
Westwind 1124A VH-NGA was forced to ditch late at night on November 18, 2009 as it ran out of fuel after severe weather prevented the crew from seeing the runway on approach to Norfolk Island from Apia, Samoa. All six passenger and crew were rescued.
The pilot in command of the aircraft, Dominic James, had been hailed as a hero for managing the night ditching without loss of life.
But the ATSB found that James did not plan the flight in accordance with regulatory and operator requirements, nor did the crew have a current weather forecast for Norfolk Island when it made the decision to continue the flight rather than diverting elsewhere. The investigation also found that the flight carried enough fuel for normal operations but not enough to cover an engine failure or de-pressurization.
Further, the ATSB said the crew failed to tell Norfolk Island’s Unicom operator where they were ditching the aircraft, making the subsequent rescue “somewhat fortuitous.”
“The flight crew’s delayed awareness of the deteriorating weather at Norfolk Island combined with incomplete flight planning to influence the decision to continue to the island, rather than divert to a suitable alternate,” the investigation said.
As a result of the incident, the ATSB said Pel-Air had changed its guidance on unforecast weather conditions and would provide satellite communication to crews in remote areas. CASA is also developing regulations covering fuel planning and in-flight management.