A Cessna 172 pilot crashed into a powerline and died after flying less than 8 metres above his friend in a tractor.
An ATSB investigation into the incident, which took place at Coonabarabran in NSW last year, concluded the move was “intentional” despite the pilot not having the correct licence to fly so low.
The ATSB’s director of transport safety, Dr Mike Walker, said, “Operations at low height expose an aircraft to several hazards like powerlines, which are typically very difficult to see and present a critical hazard to any low-flying aircraft.”
Media reports later revealed the pilot was a 57-year-old man, though his name was never publicised.
The full ATSB investigation reveals how the Cessna 172, with a single pilot on board, had been conducting circuits at Coonabarabran Aerodrome on 18 April 2022 before it contacted powerlines and crashed, killing the pilot.
“After completing several touch-and-go landings, the pilot flew a low pass at 15–25 feet above the ground over a tractor, which was working in a field adjacent to the aerodrome,” Dr Walker said.
In the vicinity of an airfield, operations at low levels are normal during take-off and landing. However, the aircraft’s flight path just prior to the collision did not align with the runways and was not consistent with a normal circuit pattern.
In recognition of this and other specific risks and hazards of low-level flying, CASA requires pilots to hold a specific low-level rating before flying low.
“Even with appropriate training, flying at low-level carries a significant risk and should be avoided when there is no operational reason,” Dr Walker said.
“For most private pilots, there is generally no reason to fly at low levels, except during take-off and landing, or conducting a forced or precautionary landing.”
The investigation also found the pilot was found to be wearing only the lap portion of their seatbelt. It was not, though, possible to determine with certainty whether, if worn, the seatbelt’s upper torso restraint would have reduced the severity of injuries.
“Nonetheless, pilots should always wear upper torso restraints where available,” Dr Walker said.
“Research has shown that wearing an upper torso restraint significantly reduces the risk of serious or fatal injury.”