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Cause of fatal Cessna 172 crash into residential street unknown

written by Adam Thorn | April 24, 2020

Accident site ATSB
Accident site of Cessna 172’s crash on a residential street near Melbourne’s Moorabbin Airport. (ATSB)

The ATSB has been unable to find out what caused a Cessna 172 to crash into a Melbourne suburban street, killing its pilot, despite a near-two year investigation.

Anthony Liddell, 50, shouted “we’ve got engine failure” before his aircraft nose-dived 680 metres from Moorabbin Airport. Witnesses described hearing the engine sound like a “lawnmower struggling to start” as the plane came down, and a post-impact fire destroyed the Cessna.

Australian Transport Safety Bureau director Stuart Macleod said the investigation was unable to determine the reason for the engine power loss, but urged pilots to formulate a pre-prepared emergency plan to be put in action when encountering similar situations.

“Proficiency in in-flight emergencies can be improved by regularly practicing these emergencies,” said Macleod.  “Additionally, flying the approach as per manufacturer and airport procedures places the aircraft in the optimum configuration and position.”

At 5:10pm on 8 June 2018, the pilot of a Cessna Aircraft Company 172S, Anthony Liddell, was returning to Moorabbin Airport, Victoria, following a one-hour private flight.


The trip was conducted following maintenance, which included a scheduled engine change. The pilot, and sole occupant, was also one of the licensed aircraft maintenance engineers that had conducted some of the recent work on behalf of the aircraft owner.

While the Cessna was on its final approach to the runway, and at about the time it was cleared to land, witnesses on the ground observed the aircraft a little lower than expected and described hearing the engine “spluttering” and “struggling”.

The pilot transmitted a mayday call, shouting “We’ve got engine failure.”

Shortly after, witnesses observed the aircraft’s left wing and nose drop, consistent with an aerodynamic stall.

ATSB Cessna Melbourne crash
Flight Aware flight data and Google Earth, modified by ATSB

The aircraft smashed into the ground in a residential street about 680 metres from the airport. The pilot was killed and a post-impact fuel-fed fire subsequently destroyed the aircraft.

There was minor damage to one house and a car, but no injuries to people on the ground.

The ATSB examined the aircraft’s engine, its components and fuel system, but was unable to determine the reason for the reported engine power loss.

The investigation also found that when control of the aircraft was lost, there was insufficient height to recover.

“The loss of engine power while on final approach presents a scenario where there may be limited forced landing options, especially when there is insufficient height to glide to the airport,” concluded Macleod.

“This is particularly relevant where the approach is over built-up areas, such as at Moorabbin Airport.”

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Comments (3)

  • Marum


    It always amazes me that there is not a “green space” around smaller airports. Especially on the approach and departure areas.

    It is often said that there are not enough parks. Well, that would be an ideal site for a couple. Just look at Archerfield in Brissie. When my dad learnt to fly, (Tiger Moth) it was the main airport, and surrounded by open fields. Now, the industrial areas abut the airport.

    With a sink rate of 500 to 600 fpm, for the average small high wing monoplane, (Cessna, Piper, Jabiru, etc) one does not have much gliding capacity on approach from one kilometre out, and about 65 – 70 knots IAS.

    Regards…. Marum

  • Alan Pace


    Marum I also learnt on DH82 Tiger Moth (in 1957) & am amazed that irrespective of the fatal, he didn’t stop the stall ‘cos 172’s are the safest engine failure planes. BUT Re Secondary Airports, I once worked for DCA (before CASA) & GA Airports were designed to fail ‘cos they wanted to restrain GA & only concentrate on Airline. Also, they NEVER wanted Secondaries to EVER take ANY airlines even smaller types, hence the lack of ILS. At age 17, I noted on the north side of Moorabin, Melb’s Secondary, a mile of cabbage fields & open stuff. Even then, I was angry that this EVER happened. Short sightedness in Aussie killed many a pilot/passengers due to false restraints largely made on the run & never reviewed. Having lived in USA, these Aussie Secondaries are seen as ‘beyond awful’ & would never happen there or in most other countries.

  • Doug Green


    Most secondaries would have had clear open areas surrounding them originally, but it is inevitable that these areas acquire value as cities expand, and are turned over to res. or industrial. It is not economically practical to maintain clear emergency landing areas “just in case”.

    I’m a retired pilot, but accept that private aviation is a minority activity which takes up a disproportionate amount of land, seen as unreasonable or even unfair by non-participants.

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