Three transport safety investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) have arrived at Orange Regional Airport to analyse the wreckage of Tuesday night’s crash which left two people with serious burns.
Charred scraps of metal are all that remain of Ben Wheeler’s Cirrus SR22 aircraft, which is still lying just off the tarmac in short grass at the airport, the damage showing just how intense the blaze was on Tuesday night.
Mr Wheeler – who is from Orange and was piloting the plane when it crashed – and co-pilot Catherine Fitzsimons both had their conditions downgraded from ‘serious but stable’ to ‘stable’ on Thursday at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital.
The initial priority for the investigators will be to assess the safety of the accident site.Australian Traffic Safety Bureau
An exclusion zone is in effect around the wreckage as investigators pick through the scene to piece together what happened to cause the crash.
The plane is far enough off the tarmac that scheduled flights have not been impacted.
There were no visible skid-marks or signs of landing around the plane, indicating the aircraft didn’t slide along the ground as it came to ground.
A statement released by the ATSB said transport safety investigators would be at the airport for the next few days as they examine the wreckage and interview witnesses to the accident.
The ATSB statement said the bureau will release a final report at the conclusion of the investigation.
“However, should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, then we will immediately notify relevant parties,” they said.
The most potent danger facing ATSB investigators when inspecting wreckage is normally fuel, but carbon fibre, asbestos, explosive devices like gas tanks or gas escaping from crashed aircraft also pose dangers.
“The initial priority for the investigators will be to assess the safety of the accident site, given the aircraft was made from composite materials and has been burnt,” the statement said.
“The aircraft was also fitted with a ballistic parachute recovery system.”
The ATSB note on their website ballistic parachutes can be a serious hazard to those inspecting plane wrecks as they often used pressurised gas to release chutes, and the plane contains many elements that could create dangerous airborne particles for investigators.
There is no time-frame for when the report into the accident is expected to be released, but it’s expected to take about a month.
The blackened remains throw a heroic light on the decision by Mr Wheeler – who was thrown clear of the blazing aircraft on impact – to run back into the flaming wreckage to help Ms Fitzsimons, as noted by Central West Police District Superintendent Chris Taylor.