The tragic final moments of a grandfather and his three grandchildren who died in a horrific fireball when their plane plunged from the sky have been revealed.
Air traffic recordings captured the moment controllers realized something was terribly wrong with the light plane minutes after it took off from Canberra on Friday.
The experienced pilot, 65, was piloting the four-seater Cirrus SR22 with his 11-year-old grandson and two granddaughters, aged nine and six, alongside him on the 750km journey to Armidale, in northern New South Wales.
The grandfather, from Bunya in Brisbane, is said to have had hundreds of hours of flying experience. His grandchildren are said to be from New South Wales.
The plane was registered to Up N Up Aviation, owned by Mike Cahill, president of the Redcliffe Aero Club in Brisbane. It is unclear who was piloting the 21-year-old plane at the time of the tragic accident.
It crashed minutes after takeoff, falling from the sky and crashing to the ground where it caught fire near Lake George in the New South Wales Tablelands.
The single-engine plane, registered VH-MSF, exploded on impact around 2:50 p.m. Police said there were no survivors and that formal identification of those killed could take weeks due to the severity of the tragedy.
Recordings of ATC radio transmissions at the time of the crash reveal air traffic controllers’ increasingly desperate attempts to relieve the pilot when they noticed his plane had disappeared from their screens.
The tragic final moments of a grandfather and his three grandchildren who died in a horrific fireball when their plane plunged from the sky have been revealed. The remains of the plane can be seen above
The crashed plane was registered to Up N Up Aviation, owned by Mike Cahill (pictured), president of the Redcliffe Aero Club.
The five-seat single-engine Cirrus SR22 VH-MSF crashed and burst into flames near Lake George in the New South Wales Tablelands at around 2.52pm on Friday, NSW Police said .
The plane was cleared for takeoff at 2:36 p.m. and at 2:40 p.m. the plane, called “Mike Sierra Foxtrot” on the radio, was directed to an 010 heading.
The pilot responds with a brief “copy”.
Two minutes later, ATC says the plane is “four miles east of Canberra” and tells them to “return to navigation and head directly to Cullen (a small town near Mudgee en route towards Armidale).
A voice responds, “Okay, Cullen, Mike Sierra Foxtrot.” » This is believed to be the final transmission on board the aircraft.
The plane then maintains radio silence as it slowly climbs to 7,000 feet, reaching a speed of 137 knots before its ground speed rapidly slows as it continues to climb.
By the time it reached 9,000 feet, the plane had lost all forward speed and suddenly fell from the sky near Lake George, 35 km north of Canberra Airport.
It fell to the ground within 60 seconds, where it exploded on impact in farmland near Gundaroo.
At exactly 2:50 p.m., an air traffic controller from Canberra Approach realized that something was wrong and tried to follow up with the pilot on his radio.
For the next two minutes, he tried ten times to get a response from the plane after its radar signal disappeared, constantly repeating: “Mike Sierra Foxtrot, this is Canberra Approach.”
But the calls are met with silence.
A minute later, another controller from Canberra Tower joined the search, also asking the pilot to respond, before both controllers persisted in their efforts to get a response.
Meanwhile, other planes continue to land and take off from Canberra Airport, prompting a warning from ATC to other pilots: “There is a problem with a light aircraft – we are telling you let’s know.”
Tower and approach controllers continue to try to get a response for the pilot before the alarm is officially sounded at 2:57 p.m.
“Attention all stations,” said the tower controller. “Please be advised that a flight has just disappeared from radar so there may be delays at this time until we can get further instructions.”
Controllers continued to try to relieve the pilot, but by then he and his grandchildren were already dead.
Emergency services arrived at a property on Hadlow Drive, Gundaroo, just before 3pm after a local resident reported seeing flames in the crash area.
A light plane crashed (pictured) in Canberra’s north-east on Friday afternoon before the plane caught fire.
Emergency crews (pictured) arrived on scene after the accident as firefighters from the Rural Fire Service worked quickly to extinguish the flames.
Smoke was seen in the air shortly after as firefighters, ambulances and police vehicles rushed to the scene.
Fire crews worked quickly to extinguish the blaze and police established a crime scene as the investigation continues.
“When police arrived with RFS services there was a small grass fire and obviously a catastrophic crash of a small light aircraft,” Police Commissioner Cath Bradbury said.
“The RFS shut down the aircraft – unfortunately there are no survivors. They have not yet been formally identified. A report will be prepared for the coroner.
There were “few witnesses” to the accident, according to Superintendent Bradbury, who confirmed police would be working through the night to get to the bottom of the cause of the horrific incident.
“Officers from Monaro Police District are investigating the incident, including to confirm how many people were on board at the time,” the spokesperson said.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has also been informed and will attend.
The Cirrus SR-22, manufactured in the United States, is a single-engine aircraft and one of the most popular general aviation aircraft in the world, regularly topping global best-seller lists.
Six minutes after takeoff, the plane plunged sharply near Lake George, with air traffic control unable to establish communication with the pilot.
The Cirrus SR-22 is a single-engine aircraft and one of the most popular general aviation aircraft in the world, regularly topping global best-seller lists.
He climbed steadily to 3,000 m but began to gradually lose ground speed as he gained altitude and reached 7,000 ft until, at 9,000 ft, the plane suddenly falls from the sky near Lake George.
ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell said investigators were expected to arrive at the scene on Friday evening.
“Over the coming days, investigators experienced in aircraft operations and maintenance will conduct a series of on-site evidence collection activities, including mapping the site, examining the wreckage and recovering components of the aircraft for further examination at the ATSB technical facilities in Canberra,” he said. .
“Investigators will also seek to interview all witnesses and parties involved, and collect relevant recorded information, including flight tracking data, as well as pilot and aircraft maintenance records, as well as weather information.”