Collision with terrain in a residential street highlights limited forced landing options following loss of engine


Loss of control and collision with terrain involving Cessna 172, VH-EWE, near Moorabbin Airport, Victoria, on 8 June 2018

The importance of having a clear, defined emergency plan for critical stages of flight is highlighted by a Cessna 172’s loss of control and collision with terrain in a residential street near Melbourne’s Moorabbin Airport.

Cessna 172S, registered VH-EWE, was returning to land at Moorabbin Airport on 8 June 2018. The private flight was being conducted following maintenance, which included a scheduled engine change. The pilot, and sole occupant, was also one of the licenced aircraft maintenance engineers that had conducted some of the recent maintenance on behalf of the aircraft owner.

While the aircraft was on final approach to runway 35 Left, and at about the time it was cleared to land, witnesses on the ground observed the aircraft a little lower than expected and described hearing the engine ‘spluttering’, ‘struggling’, and that it ‘sounded like a lawn mower struggling to start’.

The pilot transmitted a MAYDAY call, stating ‘we’ve got engine failure.’ Witnesses observed the aircraft’s nose and left wing drop, consistent with an aerodynamic stall. The aircraft collided with terrain in a residential street about 680 metres from the airport. The pilot was fatally injured and a post-impact fuel-fed fire destroyed the aircraft. There was minor damage to a house perimeter fence and a parked car. No one on the ground was injured.

Taking positive action and ensuring that control is maintained has a much better survivability potential than when control of the aircraft is lost.

“The loss of engine power while on final approach presents a scenario where there may be limited forced landing options, especially when there is insufficient height to glide to the airport,” said ATSB Director Transport Safety Stuart Macleod.

“This is particularly relevant where the approach is over built-up areas, such as at Moorabbin Airport.”

The investigation found that when control of the aircraft was lost, there was insufficient height to recover.

“Having a clear, defined emergency plan prior to the critical stages of the flight removes indecision and reduces pressure on the pilot while in a high-stress situation,” Mr Macleod said.

“Proficiency in in-flight emergencies can be improved by regularly practicing these emergencies. Additionally, flying the approach as per manufacturer and airport procedures places the aircraft in the optimum configuration and position.”

Mr Macleod noted that the ATSB publication Managing partial power loss after take-off in single-engine aircraft provides guidance that is also applicable to an engine failure occurring at low-level during an approach.

“Taking positive action and ensuring that control is maintained has a much better survivability potential than when control of the aircraft is lost,” he said. “In addition, using the aircraft structure and surroundings to absorb energy and decelerate the aircraft can assist in minimising injury.”

The investigation examined the aircraft’s engine and fuel system, and did not identify any failures or issues that may have contributed to the loss of engine power.

You can find here the investigation report AO-2018-048: Loss of control and collision with terrain involving Cessna 172, VH-EWE, near Moorabbin Airport, Victoria, on 8 June 2018

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