Published date: 14 September 2023

The Civil Aviation Authority is urging pilots to upskill for flying in mountainous terrain following a fatal accident on 4 August 2022 when a Cessna 182H Skylane crashed on the McCoy Glacier in the Southern Alps.

The investigation report, released today, revealed that the plane collided with terrain after an apparent decision by the pilot to turn back to his departure aerodrome. The aircraft likely encountered an area of very strong downdraughts resulting in a high rate of descent. These downdraughts either exceeded its climb performance and/or possibly forced it into the cloud layer. For either scenario the pilot was unable to avoid terrain.

Search and rescue (SAR) personnel assessed the accident as being 'unsurvivable' and due to the adverse weather and hazardous conditions the wreckage and pilot’s body were unable to be recovered.

The pilot had considered weather when planning the flight from Franz Josef aerodrome to Rangiora aerodrome, but despite the forecast on the day of the flight and subsequent concerns expressed by other pilots and his wife, he decided to go ahead with the flight, acknowledging the possibility of turning around if necessary.

“This is a devastating example that shows how important it is to understand the weather conditions you could encounter along the entire planned route before taking to the sky,” said Deputy Chief Executive Aviation Safety David Harrison.

“Particularly with mountain flying, we must acknowledge that once in the air, by the time we’re able to conclude that it’s unsafe to fly it may be too late. It’s quite simple: if in doubt, don’t fly.”

While the report into the 2022 crash noted that the pilot wasn’t required by Civil Aviation Rules to complete a mountain flying course, and that his instructor believed he understood the challenges of flying in high winds in mountainous terrain, Harrison pointed out that Civil Aviation Rules set the minimum requirement for safety.  Instruction in terrain awareness techniques and basic mountain flying skills is mandated for private and commercial pilot licences.

“Mountain flying requires special skills, knowledge and flying techniques and we highly encourage pilots to seek additional opportunities to equip themselves for these conditions to avoid tragedy,” he said.

The CAA’s Good Aviation Practice (GAP) Mountain flying booklet [PDF 1.5 MB] and a video resource are a comprehensive starting point. Mountain flying courses are available through flying schools around the country.

Safety recommendations (page 32 of report)

1.1 Pilots are strongly recommended to become familiar with the CAA GAP Mountain flying booklet before flying into mountainous terrain.

1.2 Pilots who frequently fly in mountainous terrain are recommended to complete a mountain flying training course. This course provides further knowledge and skills when flying in this challenging environment.

1.3 The CAA will publish an article entitled High Safety in the Spring 2023 Vector safety magazine. This article discusses the risks that mountain flying presents and provides advice to pilots.

1.4 Pilots are cautioned about relying solely on uncertificated meteorological forecasting providers such as Windy when conducting extended cross-country flights. Pilots are recommended to obtain detailed aviation-specific forecasts including GRAFOR and AAW, Graphical NZ SIGWX and SIGMET.

1.5 Following this and previous weather-related accidents, the CAA will publish an article in the Vector safety magazine about understanding and planning for forecast en route weather.

Further information

Full report: CAA occurrence 22/4516 ZK-MGB [PDF 2.3 MB]

GAP booklet: Mountain flying [PDF 1.5 MB]

Mountain flying videos

Vector Spring 2023: High safety

CAA media contact

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