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ATSB gives update on fatal Soar Aviation crash

written by Adam Thorn | January 13, 2021

An initial ATSB investigation into a Soar Aviation crash that killed an instructor and trainee pilot has so far found no faults with the aircraft’s engine or flight controls.

In November last year, Saket Kapoor, 38, and Shipra Sharma, 26, died when their Aquila AT01 hit the bank of a small dam near Carcoar, south of Orange, NSW.

The update comes after flight school Soar Aviation entered administration weeks ago and as it separately faces a class action by Gordon Legal alleging it did not meet CASA requirements and delivered substandard teaching. There is currently no suggestion the company were at fault in this incident.

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On Tuesday, the ATSB released an early “investigation update”, which revealed basic details of the flight and also what progress has been made in finding its cause.

“To date, the ATSB has examined the aircraft wreckage, interviewed witnesses, and retrieved personal electronic devices and aircraft components from the accident site,” said ATSB acting director transport safety Kerri Hughes.

“On-site examination of the aircraft’s flight controls, engine and structure did not identify any pre‑existing faults or failures. In addition, evidence of fuel spillage at the accident site indicated that the aircraft had fuel on board, while the presence of fuel in the fuel filters indicated the engine had fuel supply at the time of the accident.”

Hughes also noted the update does not include any safety findings or analysis, which will be detailed in the investigation’s final report.

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“As well as analysis of electronic data from the pilot’s personal electronic devices and considering witness information, the ATSB will also examine a number of recovered aircraft components and analyse the aircraft’s maintenance history, weight and balance, and performance,” Hughes said.

“The ATSB will also examine flight planning for the accident flight; the operator’s policies and procedures; and review pilot qualifications, experience and medical information.”

On 4 November 2020, at about 2:30pm AEDT, the student pilot and instructor of an Aquila AT01 aircraft, VH-OIS, departed Bankstown Airport in NSW on a training flight.

The purpose of the flight was a final check for the student pilot prior to conducting a Commercial Pilot (Aeroplane) Licence flight test, planned for later in the month. The flight route consisted of a departure to the west over the Blue Mountains, before turning north‑west to Orange Airport.

Flight tracking data obtained by the ATSB from FlightAware indicated that the aircraft arrived at Orange just prior to 4pm, where circuits were conducted to two runways for about 30 minutes. On completion of the circuits, a full-stop landing was performed, and the aircraft was taxied to a parking bay where it remained for about 10 minutes. While parked at the bay, the instructor was observed by a witness to be consulting flight charts.

At about 4:40pm, the aircraft departed Orange and initially maintained the runway 11 upwind track for about 10 nautical miles (18.5 kilometres) before the track turned south, toward the Coombing Park aeroplane landing area (ALA), near Carcoar. The Coombing Park ALA was 27 kilometres south of Orange and had a 1,200-metre-long runway consisting of short dry grass, with an east‑west direction.

On arrival overhead at the ALA, two orbits of the airstrip were flown at about 500 feet above ground level. Following the two orbits, the aircraft was flown in a circuit pattern consistent with a touch‑and-go to another runway at Coombing Park. At the point of expected touchdown there, no further flight data was available, likely due to terrain shielding.

No eyewitnesses observed the aircraft land and subsequently take-off, although one witness heard the aircraft approaching from that direction. The witness described the aircraft engine as sounding normal prior to the sound fading, consistent with the aircraft flying away. However, after no more than 10 seconds later, at about 5:09pm, the witness heard the aircraft crash into the ground.

About two hours later, the wreckage was found with both occupants fatally injured and the aircraft destroyed. The aircraft had impacted the bank of a small dam, located on rising terrain about 600 metres beyond the end of the runway at Coombing Park.

The ATSB said a final report will be released at the conclusion of the investigation.

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