New rules after tragic plane crash north of Horsham

A TRAGIC plane crash north of Horsham two years ago has helped precipitate tighter aviation rules.

New legislation for pilots, drafted by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, comes into effect on Wednesday.

The authority has also issued a safety message for all operators and pilots considering night flights under visual flight rules.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has released its report into the Angel Flight crash 31 kilometres north of Horsham Aerodrome on August 15, 2011.

Pilot Don Kernot, 69, and one of the passengers Jacinda Twigg, 15, of Nhill died in the crash.

The second passenger, Jacinda’s mother Julie, later died in hospital as a result of complications from injuries sustained in the accident.

The bureau’s report said that the Piper Cherokee pilot was on a private flight transporting two passengers from Essendon to Nhill under visual flight rules.

The flight was arranged by the charity Angel Flight to return the passengers to their home after medical treatment in Melbourne.

Global Positioning System data recovered from the fallen aircraft in 2011 indicated that when about 52 kilometres from Nhill, the aircraft did a series of manoeuvres followed by a descending right turn.

The aircraft subsequently hit the ground at 6.20pm.

The bureau found that the pilot landed at Bendigo and accessed a weather forecast before continuing towards Nhill. 

After recommencing the flight, the pilot probably encountered reduced visibility approaching Nhill because of low cloud, rain and diminishing daylight, leading to disorientation, loss of control and impact with the terrain.

One of the passengers was probably not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident.

The bureau also established that flights were permitted under visual flight rules at night in conditions where there were no external visual cues for pilots.

In addition, pilots flying such operations were not required to maintain or periodically demonstrate their ability to maintain aircraft control with reference solely to flight instruments. 

The new legisation requires a biennial review for night visual flight rules-rated pilots. 

In addition, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority has indicated that it will clarify the definition of night-time ‘visibility’, and provide better guidance on night-flight planning and other aspects of night flights.

It is also producing an educational booklet related to visual flight at night.  

The transport safety bureau has recommended prioritising the tighter operations. 

The bureau issued a safety message that all operators and pilots considering night visual flight rules – VFR – flights should assess the likelihood of dark night conditions by reviewing the weather conditions, celestial illumination and available terrain lighting affecting their planned flight. 

A VFR flight in dark night conditions should only be done by a pilot with high instrument flying proficiency because there was a significant risk of losing control if attempting to fly visually in such conditions. 

Additionally, the bureau said wearing seatbelts would reduce the likelihood and severity of injuries in an aircraft accident.

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