ZK-JLB, Jan 2008 - CFIT in Mountainous Area

ZK-LJB - Controlled Flight Into Terrain in Mountainous Area

Location: Near Cass Saddle, Canterbury, NZ
Date: 16 Jan 2008
Type of Aircraft: Piper PA28-181


The pilot was on a cross-country flight as part of his training for his Commercial Pilot's licence. A passenger from the same flying school was also onboard.
The flight was planned from Christchurch to Hokitika return.
The aircraft departed from Christchurch at 09.10AM. ATC radar shows that the aircraft tracked directly to Hokita and landed there at approximatley 11.20AM. The aircraft was refueled at Hokitika before returning towards Christchurch.
On the return trip a position report was made to air traffic control that the aircraft was Northwest of Lake Coleridge at 8400 feet. Shortly after this, the aircraft was spotted by two witnesses, and they described the aircraft as "quite high and heading east."
The aircraft was then spotted about 15 minutes later by three hunters in the area. It was described as “below the tops of the surrounding hills which is low for this area” and its height was estimated to be 800 to 1200 feet above the group.
When the aircraft failed to reach Christchurch at the expected time, a search was initiated. The aircraft was found at 05.30pm, as a burnt-out wreckage.


The pilot had a valid licence, and medical at the time of the flight, and had been authorised to carry out the flight with the passenger by his instructor before the flight.
The aircraft had a current airworthiness certificate, and all required/scheduled maintenance had been carried out.
The weather was suitable for visual flying, and was well above the minimums required by the flight training school to send a student on a solo flight.
The aircraft collided with a very steep slope on the side of a narrow valley, next to Hamilton Creek.


The pilot deviated from his authorised flight plan, and conducted flying at low level in mountainous terrain. He had very little experience in this type of flying.
The probable cause of the accident was found to be that the pilot entered a narrow valley, and in an attempt to manoeuvre the aircraft clear of terrain, collided with the ground.

Lessons taken from this accident

This information has been provided in the CAA1 accident report as to what has been implemented since this accident occured:

"A significant area of New Zealand’s land mass is mountainous terrain. As such, flight into and around these areas presents a number of challenges for the pilot. The danger of operating light aircraft at low level in these areas cannot be underestimated as the historic accounts of aircraft and lives being lost in this environment demonstrate."

"There have been at least three examples in the last 15 years of fatal air accidents caused by a lack of mountain flying skills. In 1993 an N22 Nomad aircraft impacted the Franz Josef Glacier killing all on board. In 1997 a Cessna 310 aircraft crashed on take-off from Queenstown airport killing all six on board. And in 2002 a Cessna 207 aircraft was lost at Gertrude Saddle near Milford Sound killing a further six people.
The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has made recommendations to the Director of Civil Aviation Authority to address safety
issues identified during their investigations into some of these accidents. The CAA has acted on these by recognising the special skills and knowledge needed for mountain flying operations and has provided education and promotional material to help better inform pilots. This material has included the Good Aviation Practices Booklet-‘Mountain Flying’, CAA Vector magazine articles and ‘AvKiwi’ seminars."

"Changes in the fixed-wing pilot training syllabus for mountain flying are being prepared by the CAA with the NPRM now in its final drafting stage. Training of Flight Examiners for adoption of the new standards is scheduled to commence in September 2009."

"The addition of GPS flight tracking systems in the training organisation’s aircraft should make a big improvement to safety, both in ensuring that flight plans and authorisations are complied with and for any future search and rescue work."

1. Houston, M. (2008) CAA Aircraft Accident Report, Occurrence Number 08/129, Piper PA28-181, ZK-LJB, Near Cass Saddle, Canterbury, 16 JAN 2008 Retrived from the World Wide Web: http://www.caa.govt.nz/Accidents_and_Incidents/Accident_Reports/ZK-LJB_Fatal.pdf on 24 August 2009

Want to know more?

CAA Accident report
The full accident report provided by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority
Situational Awareness
A more indepth look at situational awareness and what pilots can do to maintain this.
This page shows how Air Traffic Control can track pilots during their flights.

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