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Light plane crashes west of Launceston, pilot taken to hospital with burns

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A senior Tasmanian police officer has been identified as the pilot involved in a single-engine plane crash in Northern Tasmania.

 

Inspector Darren Hopkins, 51, is in a critical but stable condition after suffering severe burns to 25 to 30 per cent of his body when he crashed into a paddock.

 

Tasmania Police said a fire broke out in the cockpit while the plane was mid-air, but Inspector Hopkins was able to land the plane, exit the aircraft and phone emergency services, who were called to the scene at about 11:20am on Sunday.

 

Police said the plane crashed near Westwood Road, Hagley, about 30 kilometres west of Launceston.

 

The recreational pilot was taken to Launceston General Hospital with serious injuries before being flown to the Royal Hobart Hospital by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

 

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IMAGEInspector Darren Hopkins is in a serious but stable condition after suffering severe burns in the crash.(Supplied)

Commander Brett Smith said it was a tough day for Tasmania Police.

 

"It certainly hits home but we're just pleased to see that Darren is stable and is holding his own," he said.

 

"It does impact our members and we're just very, very thankful … it could very well have been much worse.

 

"It appears to be remarkably lucky that Darren was able to land the plane in the conditions."

Local dairy farmer Andrew Johnston said he watched the plane from about 2 kilometres away before seeing a "big puff of smoke".

 

He said he saw the plane flying at an altitude of about 80 metres, resembling a crop duster.

 

"It was just turning, like a spray plane would doing the crop, just turning around … and then a big puff of smoke," he said.

"I didn't think that [the smoke] was the plane, though — I thought it was someone burning off."

 

"It's not the time that a spray plane or a fertiliser plane would be out because the ground's all dried out.

 

"So it was a bit unusual; it caught my eye.

 

"I don't know if he was looking for a paddock to land in."

 

Tasmania Police said the cause of the fire was unknown and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau would investigate the crash.

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We had a Jabiru J170D at my flying club catch fire and burn to nothing while sitting in a hangar. Was 24 hours or so after its last flight. No explanation as far as I know.

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as a jab pilot, I'd really like to know what caused a fire to break out in the cockpit.

There can be quite a few reasons with a custom build aircraft; fuel leak, oil on the manifold, fitting an accessory without a fuse, disturbing wiring while installing something etc.

These days the most likely suspect for a big fire is thermal runaway in one of the non-standard battery types people have been fitting. Thermal runaway starts like a mini explosion, and this description fits the witness description (although not necessarily the cause, just a possibility). Thermal runaway also occurs in electronic components like GPS, phone, tablet etc.

The more important aspect is to be ready to act fast to get the aircraft down on the ground; with a fire in the engine bay it may be possible to side slip on the way down so the flames are directed away from the cockpit, even blown out. In the case of a fire which gets into the cockpit, you couldn't get better than what this gentleman did. Hopefully he may be able to share the cause.

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I'm wondering if he had a lithium battery aboard somewhere? Looks suspiciously like a thermal runaway that is a classic Lithium fire.

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By the sound of what the dairy farmer said - that he was circling around low level "like a spray plane" and all seemed okay other than that, and then a big puff of smoke (big enough for him to think someone was burning off) perhaps he might have hit powerlines.

 

I think the final burnt out result looks more like the fuel eventually caught alight, rather than a battery thermal runaway. I had one of those with a helicopter and the fire was quite intense but localised.

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With any fire get it onto the ground quickly is the priority. Don't muck up the landing though as you already have enough problems. Hope he recovers OK. Burns are not fun. Nev

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For me it would be fuel taps off, full throttle until it runs out, electrical circuitry off and down to the deck as quick as I can side slipping the flames away from me if possible, also fortunate to have a sliding canopy which would also be open.

Hope it never goes in to practice.

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That's all pretty good Alf .The sideslipping probably goes back to when you had an uncowled Radial engine. and nitrocellulous doped fuelage. Might not have much benefit with a close cowled engine.. Smoke in the cockpit may make flying difficult or may be toxic so venting is a good idea. If you think it's of an electrical nature Master switch Isolate supply if the engine doesn't rely on it . A high tech battery failing may not be able to be controlled. The big emphasis is get it down (safely) and get out of it with a fire . Nev

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Am I the only one thinking "fire extinguisher"?

Good point if you have a fire extinguisher; but the most common fires historically have been in the engine bay, a wiring fire can be hard to get at or see while you are flying the airctraft, and a small fie extinguisher doesn't seem to make much difference with thermal runaway unless you are able to wait for the initial flash to die down. Nothing beats the tried and tested big blast with powder closely followed by the foam truck to prevent reflash.

 

And that raises an interesting question; how many airfields have a combination of powder extinguishers and foam truck, trailer or trolley?

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Am I the only one thinking "fire extinguisher"?
Yes, that'd be the device that you decided to leave out of the aircraft, because of space constraints. :no:

 

...how many airfields have a combination of powder extinguishers and foam truck, trailer or trolley?
One would trust, all airfields used regularly. However, the secondary problem is finding them when needed.

Locations are often not clear, signage and general information are often fragmented or missing, and personnel who are crucial as regards fire equipment knowledge, may not be immediately available in an emergency, at less-used airfields.

This is where regular audits of fire equipment are vital. Watch the pro's at work, they're constantly checking that all fire equipment and hydrants are working, clearly locatable without delay, and immediately accessible.

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Am I the only one thinking "fire extinguisher"?

if you're solo, you'd be hard pressed landing the plane and operating the extinguisher at the same time

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This is where regular audits of fire equipment are vital. Watch the pro's at work, they're constantly checking that all fire equipment and hydrants are working, clearly locatable without delay, and immediately accessible.

That should be included in the SMS which will specify what equipment, what training etc. and audited by Compliance and Enforcement volunteers.

There is going to be a practical cutoff for strips with just a few movements per week, but you don't need a Land Cruiser tray to get to a site fast with powder and foam. At larger fields with constant traffic, not having this equipment can mean duty of care exposure.

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if you're solo, you'd be hard pressed landing the plane and operating the extinguisher at the same time

that is a fact, concentrate on flying the plane, not scrambling around the cockpit pooking for the fire equipement. Given the space in the average ultralight cockpit, letting go od the controls in an emergency is just plain DUMB...

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Am I the only one thinking "fire extinguisher"?

 

My thoughts entirely - chuck it out the window and follow it down to get on the ground as quickly as possible! :plane:

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You must fly the plane carefully, in these circumstances. There's been instances of mucking the landing up and hitting something, and you are already on fire, so a prang on top of that is not a good day. You might consider upgrading your firewall to give you more time. Cowl gills help by closing.

Generally with electrics you work by isolating the power and the smoke will stop.. Oil as well as fuel is very fire prone, so if you have a broken oil line it will continue to throw oil as long as the engine turns and there's some oil left . This is why the "ideal" engine layout has no cooler or external oil lines to fail.

Fire risk is a design and maintenance issue. The 912 Rotax has one of the worse carb positions you might consider. High up and over the exhausts. Float carburetters can flood.. and you have pressured fuel lines. Nev

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I havent read all of this thread so apologies if I'm out of line but has anyone mentioned the obvious yet? As FH said if it's an oil fire a running engine will continue to supply it with oil, likewise a fuel pump for a petrol fire.

The main thing to do, to stop any fire is to stop whatever is fuelling it. Switch off the engine if it's an oil fire, fuel cutoff for a petrol fire.

Electrical/battery things generally cause loads of pungent and toxic smoke way before there's any flame so keeping a functioning engine is a huge benefit for getting on the ground safely and quickly.

With toxic smoke in the cabin I agree completely with flying yawed with cabin vents/windows open - and if you have time to think about it, it works best if the venting side ports are more open than the pressure side, which from the point of view of being able to reach them, may well mean directing the airflow towards the pilot but, from experience, get the airflow right and the smoke forms a tight stream straight out the vent, leaving the cabin clear.

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With toxic smoke in the cabin I agree completely with flying yawed with cabin vents/windows open - and if you have time to think about it, it works best if the venting side ports are more open than the pressure side, .............

having had smoke in the cabin once, I think that the above advice will be a little too complicated to follow in this situation. All I could think of was "get it down NOW"

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having had smoke in the cabin once, I think that the above advice will be a little too complicated to follow in this situation. All I could think of was "get it down NOW"

 

Yes, I expect you're right. My experience of it was in a large twin-engined helicopter and we were two pilots and a flight engineer and the other pilot was flying so I had plenty of time to experiment.

 

After we got down it would have been quite a sight for any bystander to watch us virtually ripping the huge (40kg ish) battery out of its box in the chin and running to deposit it in a ditch so it wouldn't set fire to the helicopter.

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All I could think of was "get it down NOW"
pretty much what the emergency section of my flight manual says. Anything else depends ... a guy I know overseas was killed when he was nearly safe on the ground - opened the canopy before it stopped moving and the slipstream fanned the flames.
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... watch us virtually ripping the huge (40kg ish) battery out of its box in the chin and running to deposit it in a ditch so it wouldn't set fire to the helicopter.

 

That would have earned you a few hits on u tube!

An old ag pilot mate advised me to always wear flying gloves. As a compromise for using the iPad, mine have two fingertips removed.

My cockpit contains several devices with lithium batteries which might have to be tossed overboard at short notice.

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