Carrick airfield tragedy

Glider dies in mid-air collision

AUTHORITIES can shed little light on the cause of a fatal glider crash at Carrick on Saturday, the third accident at the same airfield in six years.

A 50-year-old male pilot, from Rose Bay, died instantly when his Blanik L13 glider collided with another mid-air at Carrick airfield at 3.40pm on Saturday. The Czechoslavakian two-seater nosedived shortly after take off after its tail was clipped by a Mini Nimbus single-seat glider, coming in to land at the strip on the ‘Lockyersleigh’ property, police said.

The Sydney man’s co-pilot, a 70-year-old from Tallong, sustained minor injuries and was flown to Liverpool Hospital. A 72- year-old ACT man, flying the Nimbus, landed safely and escaped injury.

Police Rescue, Ambulance and the Rural Fire Service rushed to the scene, some 8km from the Hume Highway.

Specialist police air safety investigators, Goulburn detectives and family of the deceased man gathered at airfield yesterday.

The former would not comment in detail at this stage, saying investigations were ongoing and were part of coroner’s brief.

However, Gliding Federation of Australia representative, Drew McKinnie confirmed the 70-year-old, who he described as a very experienced senior instructor, was in the back seat of the Blanik when it crashed. The training glider belonged to the Southern Tablelands Gliding Club.

“It had taken off at the same time as the other was coming in to land and they’ve come together in the air,” Mr McKinnie said.

“It’s then turned into a very unfortunate fatal crash.”

Mr McKinnie said the craft were not high up in the air when the collision occurred. He was not there at the time but was yesterday assisting investigators and exploring the path of the Nimbus, described as a high performance craft, before it collided with the Blanik.

Police said the deceased man, whose name has not been released, was also an experienced pilot but was undergoing a reaccreditation flight because he hadn’t flown in 90 days. This was standard safety procedure. He had been in the air for about 30 minutes.

Asked about the club’s safety record, Mr McKinnie said he understood one previous accident at the airfield was the subject of legal proceedings.

In September 2007, 64-year-old Queanbeyan man Peter Moran died shortly after his glider was winched into the air, banked to the left and crashed to the ground. His good friend, Colvin Berry, 68, suffered severe leg injuries in the crash.

In July, 2008 a 56-year-old Goulburn man sustained leg injuries after his glider clipped powerlines as he was landing.

“There has been an accident and obviously there are lessons to be learnt,” Mr McKinnie said.

“If we can improve our safety and procedures, we’ll be doing everything we can.”

Southern Tablelands Gliding Club president Jim Atkinson declined to comment on Saturday’s accident yesterday. He knew the man killed and was clearly distressed.

But a former president, Colin Veal, who was sitting next to the winch operator at the time, was mystified how it happened.

The ground crew including the winch operator and pilots of both gliders were on the same radio network on Saturday afternoon.

The first hint of something going wrong, according to Mr Veal, was a call over the radio to stop the launch of the two-seater glider.

A cable winch designed to pull gliders swiftly into the air was nearing the end of that operation. The call was made to the winch operator and Mr Veal, who was sitting next to him at Carrick airstrip. Mr Veal said the winch stopped immediately. He did not see or hear the collision.

‘‘They must have been airborne. I couldn’t see them at that point.

“People on the radio at the other end called us to stop, I believe, I don’t know, just before the impact. He immediately stopped the winch, which was all he could do.

‘‘It stops virtually instantly. But of course the glider is still moving, it doesn’t stop instantly.’’

The two-seater with a 17.5-metre wingspan had hit the ground vertically and was severely damaged. Mr Veal called 000.

Mr Veal said conditions were ‘‘absolutely beautiful”. Only two gliders and six club members were operating from the airfield on Saturday.

Several flights had preceded the tragic one. ‘‘You try and analyse what is going on, but I don’t know how it could have happened,’’ he said.

‘‘It shouldn’t have happened, as you would expect.” Mr Veal and the winch operator were one-and-a-half kilometres from other people who had helped with the launch at the opposite end of the airstrip.

‘‘You can’t see why he would take off if he knew they were coming,” he said.

‘‘I don’t understand how that all happened because, you would not expect them to move if they knew someone was coming.’’

The 40-member club has been operating from Lockyersleigh for more than 40 years. It is an amalgamation of several regional clubs.

Property owner Matt Onions said there was no financial agreement and generally the club was very professional and got on with its business in isolation.

“We feel for their loss,” he said.

“We’ve enjoyed the relationship but we certainly don’t enjoy days like this.”

Mr Onions said one accident was bad luck, but with two fatals occurring, he was interested to see the investigation’s outcome. He stopped short of signalling an end to the relationship, describing members as a “passionate group of enthusiasts.”

Goulburn police closed the airfield and a report is being prepared for the Coroner. 

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