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Fatal Cessna crash unlikely result of structural issues

written by Adam Thorn | May 27, 2022

The main wreckage of the Cessna U206G. (ATSB)

A Cessna U206G that crashed into dense bushland while conducting a geophysical survey in March didn’t have any underlying structural failures, the ATSB has revealed.

A preliminary report into the incident west of Norseman in Western Australia, which killed pilot Hugh Sterle, also suggests its engine was producing power at impact.

The safety bureau said it will now further analyse the flight path information from the aircraft’s GPS and review the risk controls undertaken before releasing an updated investigation.

“As we progress, the ATSB will further review documentation and records and the retrieved aircraft components,” said the ATSB’s director of transport safety, Dr Mike Walker.

The preliminary report details factual information established in the investigation’s early evidence collection phase and contains no analysis or findings, which the ATSB will describe in the investigation’s final report.

The aircraft, a Cessna U206G modified for low-level geophysical survey, departed Kalgoorlie to a survey site about 120 kilometres west of Norseman on 3 March 2022 with the pilot the sole occupant.

The aircraft began its survey pattern at about 1252, tracking back and forth over the area at about 25 metres (82 feet) above ground level.

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At 1343, the aircraft’s final GPS position showed it heading west at 116 knots, at about the intended survey height.

The alarm was raised when the aircraft did not return to Kalgoorlie by the expected time.

During subsequent search operations, the accident site was located in dense bushland 124km west of Norseman, with the pilot confirmed to have been fatally injured.

On deploying to the accident site, ATSB transport safety investigators determined that the point of impact indicated the aircraft initially struck trees in an upright but relatively steep nose-down attitude.

The aircraft then impacted the ground on its left side and continued through the bush in a southerly direction, coming to rest about 45m from the initial point of impact.

“ATSB investigators found no indications of pre-impact structural failures and were able to establish continuity of the aircraft’s flight controls, while propeller damage and strike marks observed in the trees indicated the engine was producing power at the time of impact,” said Dr Walker.

“There was no indication of fire in the wreckage trail, either in the bushland or aircraft components. However, the remainder of the aircraft was almost entirely destroyed by a post-impact fire.”

Along with its survey of the accident site and recovery of critical components for further analysis, the ATSB has conducted interviews and collected aircraft, operator and pilot records and documentation.

The investigation will also further analyse the flight path information from the aircraft’s GPS tracking device and review the risk controls for low-level survey work.

“A final report will be released after the investigation,” Dr Walker said.

“However, should a critical safety issue be identified during the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties so appropriate and timely safety action can be taken.”

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