Pilot error contributed to fatal Arrowtown crash

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A pilot who died on an Arrowtown grass airstrip last year lost control of his light aircraft after an aborted landing, investigators have concluded.

Tauranga amateur pilot Ian Sloan, 59, suffered fatal head injuries when his Cessna 172 nose-dived at Monk’s Airstrip next to Arrowtown Golf Course on October 17.

The Civil Aviation Authority’s final report found his actions caused the plane to stall during a slow climb-out following the attempted landing, as he battled strong cross winds and turbulence.

It pitched to the left and “entered a fully developed wing drop stall” says the report, before crashing.

“Due to the rotational impact forces, the pilot was thrown to the right in his seat,” it reads.

“As a consequence, the diagonal shoulder restraint over his left shoulder became ineffective. As a result, the pilot received head injuries from striking the instrument panel.”

A post-mortem examination showed Sloan died from blunt force head injury and severe facial fractures causing upper airways obstruction.

His passengers – step-son Wayne Candy and friend Joan Urquhart – were seriously injured but survived.

Candy filmed the flight, from Invercargill to Queenstown, and the fatal crash on his iPhone and the footage helped investigators establish the sequence of events.

Sloan, who had 315 hours’ flying experience, had flown over the private airstrip once from east to west to clear cattle. He then opted to turn in a small loop and land from the west rather than fly in a standard rectangular circuit and approach again from the east.

The CAA investigators concluded he probably had insufficient time to fully assess the environmental conditions at the airstrip.

Sloan’s first attempt to land was “high and fast” and he landed halfway down the airstrip. Realising he would not be able to stop before the boundary fence, he then took-off again.

To cope with 15 knot crosswinds, Sloan had fully retracted the wing flaps and this meant the stalling speed of the aircraft was increased.

During the climb-out, the pilot turned the aircraft to the left through 40degrees, possibly to avoid power lines and willow trees. He then continued to raise the nose to “an excessively high angle” possibly as he was fooled by a false horizon.

“This action would result in the aircraft’s airspeed reducing to the point of a stall unless corrective action was taken,” it reads.

When the plane then entered turbulence, it stalled. The report concluded Sloan’s natural reaction was to pull the control yolk backwards, rather than the correct technique of pushing it forwards to re-gain control.

“The pilot’s actions for stall recovery were incorrect, however, there was probably insufficient altitude available to ensure safe recovery.”

The CAA intends to develop information for pilots regarding unsupervised operations at private airstrips and highlight the wisdom of obtaining additional training for airstrip operations.

Sloan had flown in and out of Monk’s Airstrip 18 times between February 2011 and the day of the crash. The report indicates 15 knots is the maximum crosswind a Cessna can cope with although handling crosswinds is more dependent on ability than aircraft limitations it notes.