'Flawed decision' led to pilot's death

A New Plymouth pilot made a fatal error to fly at night when he crashed in rugged terrain southwest of Te Kuiti three years ago, a coroner has ruled.

Ben Israel Gaastra, 28, made a "flawed decision" when he tried to fly a small Cessna 152 more than 150 nautical miles at night from North Shore to New Plymouth into deteriorating weather and on a route with limited ground lighting, coroner Carla na Nagara said in her decision released yesterday.

The Civil Aviation Authority investigation cited possible reasons for the crash on July 21, 2009. They were that Mr Gaastra was lost, had no view of the ground because of darkness, or had diverted because of the reduced visibility in passing showers.

A strong westerly wind would have been blowing him inland unless he corrected for drift.

He left North Shore aerodrome about 6pm and was last seen on radar at 7.18pm.

At 7.22pm Rescue Co-ordination Centre of New Zealand received an emergency locator transmitter signal from his aircraft.

A search by an air force Iroquois helicopter, with his father Harry Gaastra on board, found the wreckage of the plane the next morning. The aircraft had struck a large tree on a ridgeline in rugged bush.

Mr Gaastra held the right licence and had the experience to fly at night and a current medical certificate and type rating for the aircraft but he had no visual flight rules (VFR) cross-country flight experience.

The rules of his aeroclub stated that, while pilots might be authorised for night cross-country flights, routes must be geographical points clearly visible by night, Ms na Nagara said.

While he had spoken openly about completing a night VRF cross-country flight, his supervising instructor and colleagues endeavoured to persuade him against it, the coroner said.

At the time of the crash, his family told the Taranaki Daily News that Mr Gaastra, who was a twin, had wanted to be a commercial pilot.

He had trained at the Massey School of Aviation and qualified for his commercial pilot's licence and was completing a flight instructor's course through the New Plymouth Aero Club.

Taranaki Daily News