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Cessna pilot ‘likely forgot’ about power line before collision: ATSB

written by Staff reporter | May 23, 2024

VH-RSB, a Cessna 172N, crashed after colliding with a power line in October 2023. (Image: ATSB)

A Cessna 172N pilot who crashed in rural South Australia last year did not see the power line they struck and “likely forgot” it was there, the ATSB has said.

VH-RSB hit the ground and caught fire after flying into a powerline near Merriton on 8 October, killing both the pilot and the single passenger on board and injuring rescuers. In its final report, the ATSB said the powerline was in the way of aircraft landing on the property’s grass runway.

“The pilot likely lost awareness of the powerline, which was not marked in a manner sufficient to enhance visibility for pilots using the runway – nor was there a requirement to do so,” said ATSB chief commissioner Angus Mitchell.

“This highlights the importance that airstrips on rural properties should be well separated from powerlines, even when the strip is only intended for use by pilots familiar with the wires.”

The 700m grass runway had been positioned in a paddock such that one end was near an oblique powerline. Landing at that end of the runway meant the powerline was in the path of approaching aircraft unless aiming to land about halfway down the runway (well within the landing distance required for the aircraft).


Power and telecommunication companies in Australia can mark powerlines that are identified as a hazard for low-level flying operations, the investigation report notes.

“In South Australia, property owners can request a quote from SA Power Networks for the installation of powerline markers, while some power companies in Queensland and New South Wales have schemes to reduce the costs of markers to property owners,” Mitchell said.

“We urge all rural property owners to consider the hazards of powerlines near airstrips on their properties, and to ensure wires are properly marked.”

Separately, pilots flying in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia can make use of the Look up and live website or app to plan flying operations in proximity to powerlines.

In addition, an ATSB educational publication, developed in association with the Aerial Application Association of Australia – Wirestrikes involving known wires: A manageable aerial agriculture hazard – details numerous wirestrike accidents and the lessons that can be learned from them.

“Powerlines, especially single wires, are notoriously difficult to see from the air, and pose an on‑going hazard to aircraft, as this tragic accident shows,” Mitchell said.

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