Kiwi pilot blamed for deadly PNG crash

02:14, Jun 16 2014
PNG plane
CRASH SITE: Details of the site where the Airlines PNG plane crashed killing 28 people in 2011, as shown in the official report.

A New Zealand co-pilot and an Australian pilot of a plane that crashed in Papua New Guinea killing 28 people failed to take actions that could have saved the aircraft, an official accident report says.

It said that as the plane was going down the pilot called out "what have we done?"

New Zealander Campbell Wagstaff, 40, was the first officer on the Airlines PNG Bombardier which crashed near Madang on October 13, 2011.

The report by the PNG Accident Investigation Commission highlighted problems with the aircraft but said its crash was "at least partly attributable to the fact that the flight crew did not use the standard emergency procedures early on".

It said that if they had dealt with problems systematically and earlier the outcome might have been positive.

Wagstaff, from Te Kuiti, suffered minor injuries. Pilot Bill Spencer, 64, of Cairns, Australia, was more seriously hurt.


Neither man was named in the crash report.

A cabin attendant and a passenger in an aisle seat in row seven also survived.

The report said the plane's autopilot could not be used on the flight "so the aircraft had to be hand-flown by the pilots".

The pilot was conducting a low power, steep descent in an attempt to get below cloud in order to be able to see across the ocean to Madang on PNG's northern coast.

Neither pilot noticed the aircraft's speed increasing to its maximum operating speed. When this speed was reached, a warning sounded in the cockpit.

Wagstaff said that as this happened Spencer pulled the power levers backwards "quite quickly".

Moments later both propellers over-sped as the plane was 2075 metres above sea level.

The action caused severe damage to the left engine although the right engine was not badly damaged.

Its propeller was feathered but the two men could not get power from it ". . . which meant that a forced landing without power was inevitable".

The plane crashed near the Guabe River and caught fire.

The crash report found the propellers over-sped because Spencer pulled the power levels through a gate to idle the aircraft. This was prohibited in the flight manual.

There is now a mandatory worldwide lock-out mechanism on the aircraft to stop power levers being able to send propellers into reverse.

The report said that as the emergency began, Wagstaff identified the over-speeding and smoke appeared in the cockpit with various malfunction alarms occurring.

"The crew did not respond to any of these alerts by implementing the emergency procedures detailed," the report said.

The aircrew did not slow the airspeed, further reducing the time available to them to manage the emergency, consider their options, and conduct an approach to land.

The report said the landing gear and flaps were not used to slow the plane down. Had they have been the impact could have been less severe.

"The noise in the cockpit was deafening, rendering communication between the pilots extremely difficult," the report said.

"The emergency caught both pilots by surprise."

There was confusion and shock on the flight deck.

As the pilot repeated "what have we done" Wagstaff replied they had a double propeller over-speed and the right engine was shut down.

As cockpit nose dropped the pilot asked again.

"Both pilots then agreed that they had 'nothing'," the report said.

Although still flying and issuing a Mayday distress call, the aircrew did not run through emergency checklists and procedures.

They did not try to slow the plane down and it hit the ground at 211kmh and debris was spread along 300 metres.

The aircraft also caught fire.

The report says the aircrew were the furthest from the fuel tanks and the cockpit section has partly separated from the fuselage.

When they managed to get out they saw the surviving passenger who had said the fire was intense. He had escaped through a gap in the roof above his seat.

The report said the "other occupants had very little time to evacuate before the cabin was completely engulfed by fire".

Investigators interviewed the pilot and co-pilot over their failure to conduct a formal emergency response and they said there had not been enough time.

"However, the time from the initial propeller over-speed to the forced landing was 4 minutes 18 seconds," the report said.

"The flight crew's perception of time during the emergency may have been affected by stress.

"It is possible they were overwhelmed and this somehow prevented them from putting into effect the procedures and methods they had been trained to use in such circumstances."