A fatal microlight crash near Westport has been blamed on the
pilot breaking Civil Aviation rules.
"It is considered that if Civil Aviation rules had been
complied with, the accident would not have occurred," said
the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) report.
Pilot Roger Smith, 58, and his passenger Cole Ashby, 25, both
of Westport, died on January 30 last year, when their
microlight crashed at Carters Beach just minutes from
The CAA investigation found Mr Smith, who had about 765 hours
flying experience, took off in visibility conditions below
the minimum required.
Conditions had further deteriorated to thick fog before the
crash about an hour later. Mr Smith probably suffered from
"spatial disorientation" after the microlight entered the fog
in limited light, and lost control of the aircraft, the
"Considering the environmental conditions and the approach of
night, the pilot found himself in a situation that [neither]
he nor the microlight was equipped for."
Mr Smith was not night or instrument rated. The microlight
was not equipped for flying at night or in instrument
Mr Smith did not have a current microlight pilot certificate.
His biennial flight review was about a year overdue. His
certificate and membership validation had expired, the report
said. His associated medical certificate and declaration
could not be found.
Investigators found no mechanical defects with his Bantam
B22s. It had a current flight permit and had passed its
annual inspection four months before the crash.
CCTV footage at Westport Airport showed Mr Smith pumping fuel
into his aircraft at 8.21pm on January 30, before the flight
to look for deer.
The aircraft was last seen flying near Cape Foulwind about
Several witnesses indicated the microlight was flying below
the minimum allowable height of 500 feet. They said that Mr
Smith would often fly low.
Witnesses in the Carters Beach area heard a loud bang about
The microlight was reported overdue the next morning. The
wreckage was found at 9.30am; Mr Ashby's body was inside and
Mr Smith's body was about 1.5km away along the beach.
The area weather forecast that day was for mist, then fog, in
the late evening with visibility reducing to 500m.
Investigators could find no evidence Mr Smith had obtained
the forecast or made a pre-flight plan.
Westport Airport's visibility was just 300m about the time of
the crash. The cloud ceiling had reduced to 200 feet.
Visual flight rules require 1500m visibility and a 600-foot
cloud ceiling in uncontrolled airspace at aerodromes.
The report said "spatial disorientation" was a well-known
physical and mental phenomenon. It was a significant risk
when a pilot pressed on into poor visibility with no
instrument rating, lost visual clues, and failed to sense
correctly his position or motion.
It could take less than three minutes for non-instrument
rated pilots to lose control of their aircraft once all
visual references disappeared.
Mr Smith's decision to continue the flight into adverse
weather conditions was characteristic of 'get-there-itis',
the report said. Research showed that pilots often flew into
deteriorating weather to reach their destination.
The report said Mr Smith had come to CAA's attention in 2007,
when it was alleged he flew at about 200 feet near Westport
Airport and breached the airport's circuit procedure.
It was also alleged he operated a microlight without radio
gear in a zone where pilots were required to broadcast their
call sign, position and altitude every five minutes.
A CAA inspector subsequently discussed the concerns with Mr
Smith and Mr Smith sought instruction on radio and circuit
procedures at Westport Airport.
CAA was to "continue to monitor activity when travel plans
allow" but the report found no evidence of any follow-up.
On the fatal flight, the microlight operated within the
Westport mandatory broadcast zone. However, investigators
found no evidence of a radio on board or of any radio
CAA said the investigation had highlighted discrepancies in
the communication and exchange of safety information between
aviation recreation organisations and CAA.
The Recreational Aircraft Association of New Zealand had
highlighted the dangers of a visual flight rules pilot flying
in instrument meteorological conditions, and spatial
disorientation, in its May magazine.
By Lee Scanlon of the Westport News