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April 13, 2021

Goonengerry pilot faces manslaughter charge over crash

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A Maule M-5 of the type that crashed into the Clarence River in April 2014 owing to pilot error. Photo Wikipedia
A Maule M-5 of the type that crashed into the Clarence River in April 2014 owing to pilot error. Photo Wikipedia

A 54-year-old Goonengerry pilot is facing a manslaughter charge related to the death of a Murwillumbah girl in a light plane crash last year.

Kayla Whitten, 11, was killed on April 12, 2014, when the Maule M-5 light plane she was in struck a powerline and crashed into the Clarence River at Ewingar.

A report into the crash by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found that the pilot, John Patrick Crumpton, made a spur-of-the-moment decision to fly low along the river.

The pilot reported seeing the powerline before the collision but was unable to avoid it.

He was not approved to fly low and had not completed the necessary training to do so.

The report said the aircraft ended up in the river with its cabin submerged and while the pilot and Kayla’s father, 36, escaped through front door of the cockpit, they were initially unable to free the young girl.

‘After repeated attempts by the pilot to open the rear-right cabin door, the rear-seat passenger was recovered through a cockpit door,’ the report said.

‘Sustained attempts to resuscitate the rear-seat passenger were unsuccessful.’

The report also noted that the powerline was not fitted with visual warning markers, nor was there any requirement for such markers in this case.

‘The submerged, flooded and inverted cabin increased the difficulty experienced by the occupants in exiting the aircraft,’ the report said.

‘Furthermore, impact damage sustained by the right wing likely rendered the rear-right cabin door unusable as an emergency exit, delaying the recovery of the rear-seat passenger.’

As part the report, the ATSB issued a warning.

‘This accident reaffirms the risk of unnecessary and unauthorised low flying,’ the report said.

‘Operations at low altitude expose an aircraft and its occupants to a number of environment‑specific hazards and result in significantly reduced safety margins. ‘Powerline cables and other wires, which can be encountered even in relatively remote locations, are typically very difficult to see and present a critical hazard to any low-flying aircraft.

‘In recognition of these and the other specific risks and hazards of low-level flying, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority requires pilots to receive special training and endorsements before conducting low-level operations.

‘The operation of an aircraft in close proximity to terrain or water limits the opportunity to recover from any loss of control or respond to any in-flight emergency when compared to flight at higher altitudes.’

Mr Crumpton’s case is next due for mention at Lismore Local Court next Tuesday.

The accident scene, taken from the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter.
The accident scene, taken from the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter.

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