Inquiry finds plane broke up mid-flight over outback, killing pilot

An amateur-built aircraft “broke up” while flying above the Queensland outback, killing the pilot and leaving debris strewn 1.5 kilometres across the ground, initial investigations show.

Jul 27, 2021, updated Jul 27, 2021
Part of the plane's wreckage. Image: ATSB

Part of the plane's wreckage. Image: ATSB

The plane’s sole occupant had been taking part in a multi-day flying tour with three other aircraft before the accident 90 kilometres south of Charters Towers in April 2021.

The group was departing Winton for Bowen in the state’s northeast on a trip that would likely include significant cloud, reduced visibility and adverse weather for the duration of the flight, weather records show.

Consequently, the three other pilots elected to fly under the instrument flight rules, while the man in the amateur aircraft, who was restricted to operating in visual meteorological conditions, departed under a visual flight rules flight plan.

Flight data shows the aircraft departed just before 8am and sustained an “in-fight break-up” two hours later, with the accident site located almost directly below the last known radar point.

On landing at Bowen, the other pilots checked on the plane’s progress using tracking software and raised the alarm with search and rescue authorities.

The plane’s engine and propeller detached from the main aircraft structure in flight before hitting the ground at speed, a preliminary report from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau says.

Its left wing and cockpit were located a short distance from the engine.

The plane, a Van’s Aircraft RV-7A, is described as an “all-metal, high performance, experimental amateur-built aircraft”.

It is supplied in a kit and was issued a special certificate of airworthiness in August 2020.

The most recent entry into its maintenance logs were about 13 days before the accident and show it had accumulated just under 85 hours of time in service.

To date, the ATSB has collected evidence from the accident site, interviewed a number of parties and examined retrieved data from aircraft components, radar and portable electronic devices.

“As the investigation progresses the ATSB will continue to analyse the aircraft builder log, recent flight and pilot training records, electronic flight data, meteorological conditions, and the sequence of the in-flight break-up,” ATSB director of transport safety Mike Walker said.

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