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Cunningham's Gap, Qld
22 February 2003

Accident Investigation Report


1.1 History of Flight
The pilot departed Boonah Qld. on 7 February 2003 with the intention of flying to Melbourne, Hobart, Melbourne, and Adelaide with the goal of arriving back at Boonah on 22 February 2003.

The pilot attended the Avalon air show and in conversations with acquaintances appeared particularly proud of the fact that his trip was conducted strictly to schedule and that he had been able to meet that schedule.

He spent the night of 21 February in Narromine, which wasn't on his planned route but was a diversion due to widespread rain throughout NSW.

The pilot rang his wife from Warwick airfield at approximately 0900 hours EDST on 22 February. This time at Warwick would coincide with a first light departure from Narromine. He advised his wife that it was raining heavily in the area, however he intended to be in Boonah in around 2 hours time. His wife told him that it was raining heavily at their home and suggested to him that he should wait in Warwick until the weather improved. The pilot told his wife that he would attempt to cross the great Dividing Range on a direct track Warwick to Boonah and if the weather didn't allow that he would try to get through Cunningham's Gap, failing that he would return to Warwick
1.2 Injuries
The pilot suffered non-survivable injuries on impact.
1.3 Damage to Aircraft
The aircraft impacted the ground in a fairly level, left wing low attitude descending almost vertically through the heavy rainforest. The left wing took the brunt of the impact, the propeller striking the tail boom and severing the elevator control rod. The control boom was bent through almost 75 degrees just aft of the pan area.
1.4 Pilot In Command
The pilot in command was a 48 year old male. He held an AUF Pilot Certificate, appropriately endorsed for the type of aircraft that he was operating. It should be noted that the AUF Pilot Certificate is valid for flight in Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) only, not for instrument flight.
1.5 Passenger
There were no passengers on board.
1.6 Aircraft Information
The aircraft was a 1989 Austflight A 503 Drifter. The pilot acquired the aircraft in 2000. As an ex flying school aircraft an inspection at the time of purchase conducted by the Austflight factory showed wear commensurate with the age and the history of the aircraft. The new owner entered into a painstaking and major refurbishment of the aircraft. At the time of the accident the aircraft was airworthy and in very good overall condition. At the time of the last registration renewal the airframe hours were reported as 3900.
1.7 Serviceability
Inspection at the crash scene found no prior to impact unserviceability.
1.8 Instrumentation
A 503 Drifter carries only the most basic of instrumentation as necessary for visual flight. There is no attitude information instrumentation.
1.9 ELB
No ELB was triggered by the accident.
1.10 Weather
Wide spread rain inundated the Eastern States on 21 and 22 February 2003. The forecast prognosis was that the rain would continue for several days. Eyewitnesses report low cloud along the Great Dividing Range and eyewitnesses in the vicinity of Cunningham's Gap reported heavy rain and low cloud in the Gap itself.


2.1 Location
The aircraft was located just inside the western end of the valley known as Cunningham's Gap.

The crash site was displaced a short distance from the road commensurate with an aircraft following the road and then attempting a 180 degree track reversal turn. The aircraft was located in a heavily timbered rainforest area with a high overlapping foliage canopy.
2.2 Final Flight Path and Impact Point(s)
The aircraft had descended vertically through the canopy and impacted substantially intact with evidence of high vertical impact forces.
2.3 Controls
All control connections were in place and were connected and assessed as being functional prior to the impact damage.
2.4 Structure
The structure was intact and the impact forces caused all damage.
2.5 Engine & Propeller
At the time of impact the engine was running. Damage to all three propeller blades was similar and indicated that the propeller was rotating and delivering power
2.6 Fuel System
There was fuel on board and contained within the fuel system.
2.7 Cockpit Instruments
Nothing significant.


Eye witnesses driving in the vicinity of Cunningham's Gap describe a blue ultralight resembling the crashed Drifter flying just above the height of the trees, following the road and vanishing into heavy rain and low cloud in the mouth of the Gap at a time that would have been consistent with the Drifter coming from Warwick attempting to cross the range and then diverting to attempt passage through the Gap. It is a reasonable assumption to believe this was the Drifter in question.

A non-instrument-trained pilot, flying an aircraft that had no attitude instrumentation would have been a matter of seconds from losing control of the aircraft. The position of the impact site suggests that moments after the eye witnesses lost sight of the aircraft the pilot attempted a turn back to come back out of the valley entrance but not having any horizon reference he lost control and the aircraft stalled and entered an incipient spin. The low height of the operation would have precluded any opportunity for the pilot to regain visual reference and commence a recovery.


The RA-Aus must continue to educate pilots on the limitations of their aircraft and the certain fate that awaits them if they enter IMC with no training and no instruments.

" The AUF investigates accidents and incidents with the SOLE intention of preventing the same accident happening again."

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