Engine failure simulation behind Mareeba fatal plane crash, ATSB finds

A plane that crashed in Far North Queensland, killing the two men on-board, had been conducting a simulated engine failure, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has found.

Pilot William Scott-Bloxam, 73, and instructor Geoff Burry, 63, suffered fatal injuries when the twin-engine Angel 44 aircraft crashed into a cornfield 475m north of the Mareeba Airport runway on December 14, 2019.

One of the men died on impact and the other survived the crash but despite attempts from paramedics, he died at the scene.

The plane was destroyed.

Instructor Geoff Burry, 63. Picture: FacebookSource:Facebook

Pilot William Scott-Bloxam, 73, pictured in 2009. Picture: Muhammad Abduh Syah/AAPSource:AAP

‘LOSS OF CONTROL’

Speaking of the fatal crash, ATSB transport safety director Dr Stuart Godley said the instructor “very likely conducted a simulated failure of the right engine on a warm, humid day” at an elevation and configuration “which the aircraft was unable to maintain altitude with one engine inoperative”.

He added: “The loss of control occurred at a height too low to recover.”

“Witnesses reported hearing one of the engines hesitating and backfiring, accompanied by a sooty smoke trail from the right engine,” the ATSB report, published on Wednesday, states.

The plane was seen to touch down on the runway, accelerate and take off again but after 20 seconds it “rolled rapidly to the right and impacted the ground”.

The plane crashed into a cornfield in Mareeba. Picture: Australian Transport Safety BureauSource:Supplied

‘DECAY OF SKILLS’

The pilot, Mr Scott-Bloxam, was also the plane’s owner and under flight review by Mr Burry.

“Neither the pilot nor the instructor had any recent experience in the aircraft, which had not been flown regularly for more than two years,” the ATSB investigation noted.

“In addition, the pilot had not flown for three years before the accident, which likely resulted in a decay of skills at managing tasks such as an engine failure after takeoff, while the instructor had limited experience in multi-engine aeroplanes with retractable landing gear, and had only once before flown the Angel 44 aircraft, several years earlier.”

The ATSB found Mr Burry was likely unfamiliar with the 14 seconds necessary for the landing gear and flaps to retract – “significantly longer” than any other plane he had flown – and the extent of their impact on the aircraft’s “single-engine climb performance”.

“When conducting simulated engine failures, it is essential that pilots understand the risks and ensure effective controls are in place to prevent the simulation turning into a loss of control at low level, where recovery will probably not be possible,” Dr Godley said.

“Attempting to continue flight with one engine inoperative in a multi-engine aeroplane when directional control cannot be maintained, carries a high risk of an accident and fatal injuries.”

The safety bureau also found the plane had not been stored in accordance with manufacturer recommendations and “may also have reduced the expected service life of both engines’ components”.

The site of the plane crash on December 14, 2019. Picture: Bronwyn WheatcroftSource:Supplied

THE CRASH VICTIMS

Mr Scott-Bloxam was one of the “Merauke Five”, including his wife Vera, who were detained in Indonesia for nine months after an ill-fated flight from Queensland to Papua in 2008.

What the Australian citizens had intended to be a weekend trip turned into jail time over visas they had believed would be available upon arrival however, they were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing by Indonesia’s Supreme Court.

“I feel like a goldfish that has escaped a pool of piranhas,” Mr Scott-Bloxam said when he touched down in the Torres Strait.

During his overseas detention, his son Konrad Jackson, 32, from Auckland died of lung failure after he was found unconscious in waters off Perth, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Cook Shire Council mayor Peter Scott last year described Mr Scott-Bloxam as a “real character” and “outgoing bloke” who was well-known by the Cooktown population of 3000.

Pilot William Scott-Bloxam and his wife Vera with the Angel 44 aircraft.Source:News Limited

Mr Burry was remembered at a “celebration of life” in January with family, friends and aviators all invited to attend.

According to his funeral notice in the Townsville Bulletin, Mr Burry had also lost a child.

“Geoff passed away suddenly while flying in Mareeba,” it states.

“Husband of Jenny. Loved Father of Kate, Jacqueline (deceased), Nicole, Alison, Michael, Bree, and their partners.”

The 63-year-old was also a grandfather.

The FNQ Aviation Museum said Mr Scott-Bloxam’s Angel 44 aircraft “was unique and the only type in Australia and believed to have been one of few left in the world”.

“Our hearts go out to the two souls lost,” the organisation said on Facebook after the crash.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with their friends and family.”

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