SES and Police divers pictured in April trying to retrieve the plane that crashed into the Clarence River at Yates Crossing, Ewingar.
SES and Police divers pictured in April trying to retrieve the plane that crashed into the Clarence River at Yates Crossing, Ewingar. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Tragic plane crash caused by "spur of the moment" low fly

UPDATE FRIDAY: THE death of a Murwillumbah girl in a light plane crash last year is a tragic reminder of the dangers of low-level flying, according to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

Kayla Whitten, 11, was killed on April 12, 2014, when the Maule M-5 light plane she was in struck a powerline and crashed into the Clarence River at Ewingar.

Yesterday the ATSB released its final report into the crash.

The 54-year-old Goonengerry pilot, John Patrick Crumpton, is facing charges of manslaughter, recklessly inflicting grievous bodily harm, endangering the life of another and flying the plane below 500ft.

The ATSB reported that after hitting powerlines, the plane flipped and came to rest with the cabin upside down and underwater.

Both the pilot and Kayla's father, 36, were sitting in the front row and escaped through a forward door but could not free Kayla from the back of the flooded cabin.

After several attempts by Crumpton to open a rear cabin door, her body was recovered through a cockpit door.

Repeated attempts to resuscitate her were unsuccessful.

The ATSB found that the accident was an "unintended consequence" of the pilot's spur-of-the-moment decision to fly very low along the river.

The pilot reported seeing the powerline just before the collision, but not soon enough to avoid it.

He was not approved to fly low and had not completed the necessary training.

ATSB general manager of strategic capability, Julian Walsh, said the accident was "completely avoidable".

"The tragic accident at Clarence River is just one of many accidents we've investigated that resulted from aircraft flying too low.

"It should serve as a stark warning to other pilots who are ever tempted to fly lower than necessary."

Mr Crumpton's case is next due for mention at Lismore Local Court next Tuesday.

 

ORIGINAL THURSDAY 3pm: THE death of an 11-year old Murwillumbah girl in a light plane crash last year is a shocking reminder of the dangers of unauthorised low-level flying, according to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

The accident occurred on 12 April when a Maule M-5 aircraft, with a pilot and two passengers on board, struck a powerline across the Clarence River at Ewingar.

The aircraft crashed into the river, coming to rest upside down with the cabin under water.

Both the pilot and the schoolgirl's 36-year old father who were sitting in the front row managed to escape, and eventually freed her unconscious body from the rear seat through the cockpit door.

Repeated attempts to resuscitate her were unsuccessful.

The ATSB found that the accident was an unintended consequence of the pilot's spur-of-the-moment decision to fly at a very low level along the river, in an unfamiliar environment and below the minimum height for flights over unpopulated areas.

ATSB general manager of strategic capability, Julian Walsh, said the accident was a tragic reminder for pilots about the dangers of unauthorised and unnecessary low-level flying.

"Flying at low heights-below 1,000ft above terrain for populous areas or 500ft for other areas-presents many obstacles and has very low margin for error," Mr Walsh said.

"Most private pilots generally have no reason to fly at these dangerous low levels and there are special training and endorsement to do so."

"The tragic accident at Clarence River is just one of many accidents we've investigated that resulted from aircraft flying too low. This accident was completely avoidable. It should serve as a stark warning to other pilots who are ever tempted to fly lower than necessary."

A copy of the investigation report (AO-2014-068) into the accident is available on their website.



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