Matthew and Jeffrey Hills photographed a week before their fatal crash.
Matthew and Jeffrey Hills photographed a week before their fatal crash.

Plane tragedy: Investigation reveals cause of Coffs crash

The cause behind the Mooney aircraft crash west of Coffs, which tragically killed the pilot and his son, has been revealed following the release of investigation findings.

On the morning of September 20, 2019, 59-year-old pilot Jeff Hills and his 25-year-old son Matthew were found deceased in the wreckage of the small aircraft, which had collided into the heavily wooded and steep terrain of Dorrigo National Park.

The aircraft which had departed Murwillumbah early in the morning was discovered after it failed to arrive at Taree as expected.

The family of the Gold Coast pair were left devastated by the tragedy.

 

The Mooney M20J aircraft departed Murwillumbah for a private flight to Taree.
The Mooney M20J aircraft departed Murwillumbah for a private flight to Taree.

 

"The Hills boys together embraced life to the fullest," a relative told the media.

The Australia Transport and Safety Bureau on Tuesday released its final investigation report into the crash, which examined the actions of the pilot as well as Air Traffic Control.

The investigation found that Air Traffic Control had unnecessarily denied Mr Hills clearance to enter airspace around Coffs Harbour Airport, instead advising him to enter at a lower altitude and increasing the risk of encountering poor weather and visibility.

The report states limited information provided by Air Traffic Control had probably led to Mr Hills' decision to descend into a hazardous area, despite having other options to transit or to turn back.

On top of this, the investigation found Mr Hills had not completed flight reviews or proficiency checks, meaning he did not hold a valid licence and his knowledge had likely deteriorated.

The report states he was also not carrying suitable navigation equipment and likely did not obtain weather forecasts before flying.

He was likely using a handheld GPS device and air navigations charts were found stowed in a bag.

The light aircraft crash in Dorrigo National Park in September claimed the lives of father-and-son Matthew and Jeffrey Hills.
The light aircraft crash in Dorrigo National Park in September claimed the lives of father-and-son Matthew and Jeffrey Hills.

ATSB Chief Commissioner Greg Hood said these factors had reduced Mr Hills' ability to manage the flight path changes and identify the high terrain at Dorrigo National Park.

"This tragic accident emphasises to pilots the importance of flight preparation and of ensuring they have completed all required training and checks," Mr Hood said.

Mr Hood added that Airservices Australia has implemented a number of proactive safety actions since the accident, including additional training for air traffic controllers.

"This accident illustrates the significant influence that air traffic control can have on the conduct of a flight.

"And it also serves as another reminder of the risks for visual flight rules pilots flying into non-visual conditions.

"As a former air traffic controller and private pilot myself, I urge all current controllers and private VFR pilots to read this thorough and illuminating report. It contains pertinent lessons that others can learn from."

The full report can be found here.