Australia — The plane crash that killed an experienced waterbombing pilot on the NSW south coast happened when the left wing broke off due to fatigue cracking in a wing lug, a preliminary investigation has found.
David Black, 43, was killed when his fixed-wing Dromader aircraft crashed in Budawang National Park on the NSW south coast on October 24 while fighting a bushfire.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) on Monday released its preliminary report on the crash involving the PZL-Mielec M18A aircraft near Ulladulla.
A witness reported seeing one of the plane’s wings fall off before the aircraft plunged to the ground.
The report said the pilot was approaching the bushfire target point when the wing separated, causing the aircraft to immediately roll to the left, descend and hit the ground, killing Mr Black.
“Preliminary examination indicated that the left outboard wing lower attachment lug had fractured through an area of pre-existing fatigue cracking in the lug lower ligament,” it said.
Investigators found the fatigue cracking reduced the strength of the fitting to the point where operational loads produced an overstress fracture of the rest of the lug.
Following the crash, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) ordered the grounding of all Dromader M18 aircraft in Australia as a precautionary measure.
The ATSB investigation into the crash is continuing and a final report is expected by October next year.
The investigation will include examination of the wing inspection requirements, inspection methods and a history of the aircraft’s operations and maintenance.
Dromaders, manufactured in Poland, are most commonly used for crop dusting and are regularly contracted by fire authorities for waterbombing.
In April, the ATSB released a report after investigations into three fatal incidents involving Dromader aircraft.
On each occasion the aircraft were carrying increased weight and the ATSB found associated safety risks, despite approval being granted for operation at take-off weights of more than 4200 kilos.
The report outlined operating limitations under higher loads, subsequently recommending increased awareness among pilots.