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Overloading caused 2010 crash of NZ skydiver aircraft: commission

The Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand (CAA) has issued a final report about the crash of a Pacific Aerospace Industries FU-24 aircraft at Fox Glacier in 2010 that killed the pilot and eight skydivers.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission, which authored the report, says the crash serves as a "grave reminder to pilots-in-command of every aircraft."

Three months prior to the incident on 4 September 2010, the FU-24 (registration ZK-EUF) had been modified from an agricultural aircraft to carry passengers.

When the aircraft took off with one pilot and eight parachutists aboard, the centre of gravity was well to the rear of its aft limit and the aircraft was travelling too slow to be controllable, crashing nose down in a paddock near the runway, killing all aboard.

"Two local witnesses standing near the operator's facilities at the end of the runway and who were familiar with ZK-EUF taking off from the Fox Glacier runway, thought the aeroplane got airborne earlier than it normally did," says the report. "The aeroplane was then seen to continue pitching upward until it appeared to be almost vertical. At about 100m [330ft] the aeroplane entered what was described as a wing-over to the left to point almost vertically downwards."

©Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand

The commission found that the FU-24's conversion to a parachute drop aircraft had been poorly managed and it was outside acceptable loading limits for the aircraft to carry eight parachutists. In addition, the CAA had not detected any discrepancies in the aircraft's documentation after the conversion.

As a result of the crash, the commission made several recommendations, reminding pilots that no two aircraft of the same model weigh exactly the same, so pilots must do weight and balance calculations for every individual aircraft. In addition, it stressed that modifying aircraft is "a safety-critical process that must be done in strict accordance with rules and guidelines and with appropriate regulatory oversight".

As a result of the crash, the CAA has restricted the number of skydivers the FU-24 can carry to six and that each one be weighed individually to ensure the pilot-in-command has accurate knowledge of aircraft weight.

New Zealand's director of civil aviation Graeme Harris adds that pilots-in-command are responsible for aircraft weight and balance, "whether flying an airliner, private two-seater, or micro light".

"This is basic airmanship, taught to every student pilot," says Harris. "It is very sad that a critical element of pre-flight planning, which should be second nature to any pilot, appears to have been done so poorly. This is an accident that no pilot should ever forget."

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