BUSINESS pressures contributed to a pilot’s fatal crash at a poorly lit airstrip on a private property north of Benalla, according to air safety investigators.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau found Shaun Owen, 51, had bypassed Benalla and Shepparton airports which would have been more suitable for his after-dark landing on June 27 last year.
Instead after having flown from Moorabbin airport in Melbourne he attempted to land his Cirrus SR22 plane at a property at Boxwood just after 6pm with illumination from the high beam headlights of a relative’s vehicle to guide him.
The relative, who had been speaking to Mr Owen by mobile phone in the previous minutes, watched as the crash occurred.
“The family member advised the pilot that the aircraft appeared to be too close to the trees north-adjacent to the airstrip,” the bureau’s report stated.
“The pilot appeared to continue the approach until the aircraft collided with a tree adjacent to the airstrip.
“The aircraft rolled to the left and impacted terrain coming to rest inverted.
“The pilot was fatally injured and the aircraft destroyed.”
At the time of the crash Mr Owen had 633 flying hours experience, including 101 at night, but he had never landed at Boxwood after sunset.
However, the bureau suggested business pressures faced by the chief executive and founder of international transport and logistics company Transtech may have played a role in the crash.
It claimed Mr Owen’s decision to bypass the well-lit Benalla and Shepparton airports “was consistent with a degree of self-imposed pressure to get home after a series of business commitments and prior to a one-month period away from home”.
It was found there were no mechanical issues with the plane and Mr Owen’s post mortem showed no evidence of alcohol or drug use.
The bureau concluded there were three contributing factors; inadequate lighting of the landing strip, the vehicle’s headlights were inadequate for a night approach and landing and the airstrip failed to meet the physical and obstacle clearance requirements for night operations.
“It was concluded that the pilot was either unaware of or accepted the risks associated with the night approach and landing at Boxwood,” the bureau found.