The ATSB has released its preliminary findings into a fatal crash involving a Mooney M20J in September.
The ATSB has released its preliminary findings into a fatal crash involving a Mooney M20J in September. ATSB

Authority releases preliminary report into fatal plane crash

CLOUD was wrapped around a mountain range at the time of a recent fatal plane crash, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has found.

The ATSB has issued preliminary findings into the crash involving a Mooney M20J aircraft.

The plane disappeared after departing from Murwillumbah about 6.40am on September 20 this year.

On board were the pilot and one passenger, and the aircraft was on its way to Taree.

The crash site was found near Bellingen after an extensive search.

The pilot requested air traffic control clearance to travel through controlled airspace at Grafton at 7.17am the day of the incident, but this wasn't possible at their altitude of 6500ft.

The pilot then contacted the control tower at Coffs Harbour and was told they could only travel through that area at 1000 ft, due to extensive cloud cover.

At 7.24am, the pilot told the tower controller he planned to continue at a higher altitude - in which he reported clear conditions - until they entered controlled airspace.

The controller acknowledged this, but the aircraft was not heard from again.

Air traffic control records indicated the plane was descenting at a rate of about 850 ft per minute at 7.33am.

A search was initiated when the aircraft didn't arrive in Taree was planned and the crash site was found 2.8km south of its last recorded position within the Dorrigo National Park.

Both occupants were fatally injured and the plane was destroyed in the crash.

According to the preliminary ATSB report, the pilot purchased the plane three months prior to the crash and had flown about 31 hours in it.

The most recent maintenance work recorded was 11 days prior.

"On-site examination of the wreckage, surrounding damage to vegetation and ground markings identified that the aircraft impacted trees in about level flight with the landing gear and flaps retracted," the ATSB report said.

"The aircraft was severely damaged during the accident, however examination of the wreckage did not identify any pre-impact defects with the engine, flight controls or aircraft structure.

"Both wing fuel tanks had ruptured and a quantity of fuel had leaked into the soil. There was no fire."

Some aircraft components, instruments and a log book were recovered from the crash site and taken for examination.

Four minutes prior to the crash, the The Bureau of Meteorology weather station at Coffs Harbour Airport recorded wind of three knots.

A witness 10km south-east of the accident site observed a cloud base that was "at the base of the mountain range encompassing the accident site" at the same time.

The ATSB investigation is ongoing and will include the examination of

Further investigation

The investigation is continuing and will include examination of meteorological conditions and pre-flight preparation, pilot qualifications, experience and medical history, the recovered aircraft components and other matters.