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Checklist error caused October Cessna crash, says ATSB

written by Staff reporter | February 15, 2024

VH-JUA crashed due to an operator error in October 2023. (Image: ATSB)

A checklist mistake during a go-around forced the crash landing of a Cessna 172 near Murwillumbah in northern NSW, the ATSB has found.

In its report into the incident last October, the safety watchdog found the pilot of VH-JUA had incorrectly set flaps to 40 degrees instead of 20 degrees, as recommended in the plane’s manual for a go-around and said the incident highlights the importance of correctly following checklists.

“The improper or non-use of checklists has been cited as a factor in several aircraft accidents,” said ATSB director transport safety Stuart Macleod.

The aircraft was on final approach at Murwillumbah during a private flight from Gold Coast Airport on 15 October 2023, when the pilot estimated the aircraft was too high for a landing and elected to conduct a go-around.

An experienced pilot on the ground adjacent to the runway, who witnessed the accident, recalled hearing the engine running at a low power setting, before producing a loud bang or ‘pop’, about halfway down the runway, which sounded like the throttle had been pushed forward too quickly.


The Cessna pilot, meanwhile, believed the aircraft had not responded with adequate power as they commenced the go-around, although the ATSB investigation found it was unlikely the engine was not producing power.

“The pilot assessed they had insufficient power to climb and that there was insufficient runway remaining to land,” said Macleod.

“Accordingly, the pilot elected to conduct a forced landing in a field about 1 km to the north of the airport.”

During the forced landing, the aircraft was substantially damaged, and the pilot sustained minor injuries.

“Prior to the forced landing, the pilot advised they were concerned about an aerodynamic stall, so kept the flaps at 40 degrees to reduce the stall speed,” Mr Macleod explained.

“This would have created a large amount of drag and subsequently impaired climb performance.”

While not contributory to the accident, the ATSB also found an unsecured nose-wheel steering tow bar in the aircraft increased the risk of serious injury to the pilot.

“Loose items in the baggage area or cockpit can become dangerous projectiles and may cause serious injuries during an abrupt stop, turbulence or an accident sequence.”

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