The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released its report into the second fatal birdstrike last year, which brought down an Air Tractor in Queensland, killing the pilot.
The light plane crashed after hitting a large bird during spraying operations near Chinchilla on 19 September 2022, about eight feet above ground level. The ATSB has established that the birdstrike, which shattered the right windshield, likely caused the pilot to lose control.
ATSB Director Transport Safety Kerri Hughes highlighted recommended practices on managing the risk of wildlife strikes published by the Australian Aviation Wildlife Hazard Group.
“While the vast majority of birdstrikes result in nil-to-minor damage to the aircraft, and nil-to-minor injuries to occupants, these two accidents highlight the ongoing hazard birdstrikes represent,” Hughes said.
“This second accident, in particular, highlights the ongoing hazards presented during low-level spraying operations.
“Practices include considering the likelihood of a wildlife strike and proximity of known wildlife characteristics such as their agility, speed, manoeuvrability, and their ability to avoid aircraft, as well as considerations such as the consequence of a potential strike.”
ATSB examination of the accident site indicated the aircraft flew a further 310 metres, or about five seconds after the birdstrike, before colliding with the ground.
At the request of ATSB, the Australian Centre for Wildlife Genomics at the Australian Museum analysed biological specimens of the bird from the aircraft and accident site, identifying the species as an Ardeotis australis, commonly known as an Australian bustard or plains turkey.
The Australian bustard is Australia’s heaviest flying bird, with an average adult weight of 4.5 kilograms and males weighing up to 8 kilograms. They are capable of flying but are mostly ground-dwelling.
Prior to 2022, there were no fatal accidents in Australia on record involving civil aircraft, where a birdstrike was confirmed as a contributing factor. Last year’s first fatal birdstrike incident, which brought down a Bell 206L-1 LongRanger helicopter near Sydney in July, was determined to have been caused by a wedge-tailed eagle.
“The pilot was likely startled by sighting the bird or the helicopter striking the bird, reacting via abrupt control inputs,” said ATSB Director Transport Safety Dr Stuart Godley.
“Unfortunately, these inputs led to the main rotor striking and severing the tail boom, and the helicopter breaking up in flight.”
There were 212 birdstrikes on helicopters reported to the ATSB in the five years between 2018 and 2022, though this was the only incident that resulted in the loss of the aircraft. Across all sectors of aviation, 24,106 birdstrikes were reported to ATSB in the 15 years between 2008 and 2022.