Flight tragedy

The three deaths in the light aircraft crash shortly after take-off from the Mt Gambier airport two years ago shattered many families and left a huge hole in two country communities.
A volunteer pilot from Mt Barker and a 16-year-old Mt Gambier girl and her mother were all killed just over a minute into the flight to Adelaide. The air safety bureau investigation into the accident found a number of factors contributed to the tragedy.
It revealed the pilot, Mt Barker businessman and community leader Grant Gilbert, was neither qualified or experienced to take off in the low visibility conditions of the day.
Mr Gilbert was forced to undertake a number of low level manoeuvres when approaching the airport due to foggy conditions after flying from Murray Bridge that morning. Those same conditions forced the pilots of two commercial flights heading to Mt Gambier to find alternative solutions at about the same time – one circled the airport for 50 minutes waiting for conditions to improve while another diverted to another airport.
Mr Gilbert took off just 12 minutes after a difficult landing.
The report says he may have been encouraged to do so because the conditions were improving, but suggests it is also possible he felt pressured to take off so as not to delay his passengers who had a scheduled medical appointment.
The medical transfer organisation Angel Flight – to which Mr Gilbert was volunteering both his time and his plane – tells its volunteer pilots that cancelling a flight “is considered a demonstration of good judgement and will never be criticised” but refers to the flights as “missions” and the pilots as “heroes”.
Although the pilots are deserving of high praise, such language must change.
It must be remembered that none of the medical transfers undertaken by the charity are emergencies and the report recommends the organisation use scheduled passenger flights where possible. There are daily return flights between Mt Gambier and Adelaide.
Sadly nothing will change the outcome of that miserable day in Mt Gambier two years ago. Everyone has lost more than can be imagined.
The only good that can come from it is that lessons are learned and procedures improved.

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