A charity that flies sick children from regional areas to the city for crucial medical treatment has hit back at claims it has a fatal accident rate seven times higher than other private flights, the Canberra Times reports.
The report comes from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is investigating the safety of Angel Flight compared to other private flying operations, after a second fatal accident in the past decade.
The ATSB investigation came after a pilot and two passengers were killed when an Angel Flight service crashed at Mt Gambier in South Australia in June 2017.
Businessman Grant Gilbert, 78, was flying the SOCATA TB-10 Tobago to take 16-year-old Emily Redding to Adelaide for medical treatment, accompanied by her mother Tracy.
The investigation found Mr Gilbert, who had less than three years’ experience, took off in heavy fog despite not being qualified to fly in cloud using the plane’s instruments.
Shortly after, he likely lost visual cues and became spatially disorientated. The plane crashed within 70 seconds.
The same day, two Rex airline flights into Mt Gambier were delayed by poor weather.
Another plane running an Angel Flight mission crashed in similar circumstances near Nhill in Victoria in 2011, also killing all three people on board.
Angel Flight has more than 3000 volunteer pilots on its books and organises about 1600 flights a year.
A spokesperson for the charity said it engaged two senior expert statisticians and an analyst, all of whom concluded that the rate was not significantly different than other private airlines.
“The ATSB also chose to compare only the passenger-carrying sectors of flights coordinated by the charity,” they said.
The statement added that the ATSB had not adopted its own protocols of counting flight hours for general aviation accidents – instead, it counted only flight numbers.
Angel Flight expressed frustration it was not acknowledged that all volunteers are CASA-licensed, CASA-trained, and CASA-tested at least every two years.
Angel Flight / YouTube