Preliminary findings on Queensland fire surveillance aircraft tragedy released

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Australian transport safety bureau issues preliminary report

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has issued a preliminary report into the tragic accident of a twin turboprop Commander aircraft near Cloncurry, Queensland.

The incident, which occurred on 4 November 2023, resulted in the fatal injuries of the three crew members on board.

The aircraft was en route to conduct fire surveillance in the remote northwest of Queensland at the time of the accident.

Angus Mitchell, Chief Commissioner of the ATSB, shared insights into the report’s release: “Today’s preliminary report is released to provide timely, factual information.

“The evidence collected to date and areas of ongoing investigation detailed in the report will help us develop analysis and findings, which will be detailed in a final report at the conclusion of the investigation.”

Investigation uncovers initial evidence

The aircraft, operated by AGAIR under contract with Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, had departed from Toowoomba to photograph fire zones north of Mount Isa.

Aboard were a pilot and two camera operators.

Approximately 20 minutes after reaching a cruise altitude of 28,000 ft, the aircraft made a significant altitude change before descending rapidly and colliding with terrain.

Mitchell further elaborated on the communications issues faced during the flight: “The pilot acknowledged this request, but the controller was then unable to establish two-way communications with them for over an hour.”

This lack of communication preceded a series of unclear transmissions from the pilot, indicating potential distress.

Next steps in the investigation

The ATSB’s investigation will continue to focus on several key areas, including the pilot’s speech patterns during radio communications to examine hypoxia indicators and an analysis of weather conditions, maintenance records, and the operational procedures of the flight.

Investigators aim to determine the operability of the aircraft’s pressurisation and oxygen systems, which could not be established during the on-site examination.

Mitchell concluded with a commitment to safety: “If at any time should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties so safety action can be taken.”

IFSJ Comment

The ATSB’s preliminary report into the Cloncurry aircraft accident marks a crucial step in understanding the circumstances leading up to the tragedy.

Through investigation and analysis, the ATSB aims to uncover the factors contributing to the accident, ensuring that future fire surveillance operations are conducted with enhanced safety measures.

This investigation not only seeks to provide closure for the families of the crew members lost but also serves as a critical examination of aviation safety protocols, highlighting the importance of continuous improvement in emergency response and surveillance operations.

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