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‘Crash pilots couldn’t see’

A student pilot and his 89-year-old instructor in a single-engine aircraft did not see the other plane coming before a fatal midair collision over southwest Sydney three years ago, an investigation into the accident has found.


Pilot instructor Joanne Ethell and her young student Chandrika Gaur were killed on December 18, 2008 when their Cessna 152 slammed into the back of a house at Casula, after colliding with a Liberty XL2.

The Australian Transport and Safety Bureau (ATSB) on Tuesday released its final report into the accident, which says the Liberty pilots lost sight of the small Cessna.

The Liberty was being piloted by a 25-year-old student, supervised by World War II Spitfire pilot Ken Andrews.

“The two pilots in the Liberty had previously sighted the Cessna while they were tracking towards an inbound reporting point. They subsequently lost sight of the aircraft prior to the collision,” the report said.

The investigation also found other factors contributed to the crash.

Limitations imposed by the size of the Cessna, the focused workload of the student pilot and obstructions posed by the aircraft’s structure were “likely factors in them being unable to re-sight the Cessna before the collision”.

The investigation did not identify any organisational or systemic issues resulting from the crash, but it said the factors involved were “a salient reminder to all pilots that there are limitations with visual flight procedures”.

“Regardless of pilot’s experience, they need to remain vigilant at all times. That is particularly the case when in the vicinity of other aircraft.”

The Liberty made it back to Bankstown Airport, 10km away, with police at the time labelling it a “miracle” escape.

The student on board the Liberty aircraft, who was taking a test at the time of the collision, said Mr Andrews told him there was traffic to his right moments before the crash.

A preliminary report released in 2009 found the student pilot initially could not see the Cessna, but when he did sight it, it appeared to be higher than the Liberty and was turning.

The 89-year-old Mr Andrews had taken a competency assessment on December 3, just weeks before the crash, the preliminary report also said.


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