Hong Kong trainee pilot, 19, dies after two-seater plane crashes near Melbourne

Australian media says area was beset with thick fog; instructor on same flight was seriously injured but is in stable condition

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 August, 2017, 9:35am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 August, 2017, 11:14pm

A 19-year-old Hong Kong trainee pilot has died in an Australian hospital after his plane crashed near Melbourne, according to the flying school he was enrolled in.

The man’s 28-year-old flying instructor was injured and was in a critical condition after the ultralight Bristell two-seater crashed into a paddock in Clyde North, 47km southeast of Melbourne, at about 10.40am on Thursday.

Rescuers took more than an hour to free Nicholas Cheung, who had suffered facial, chest and spinal injuries.

Recreational Aviation Australia, the governing body overlooking ultralight, recreational and light sport aircraft operations, said it was too early to speculate on the cause of the accident.

“Areas of investigation typically include environmental, mechanical and operational factors,” a statement read.

Its chief executive officer ­Michael Linke also emphasised that accidents involving light aircraft were “very rare” in Australia.

“We have around 450,000 landings per year [for light aircraft], and there has only been five or six serious accidents [each year],” he said.

The body said the instructor, surnamed Dwyer, is an experienced pilot, having logged over 900 hours of flight time.

Cheung was undergoing training for a pilot certificate at the time. He completed his maiden solo flight on July 11.

“The purpose of the flight was a routine training exercise. [Recreational Aviation Australia] accident investigators are working with police and preparing a written report,” the statement added.

The academy involved, Learn to Fly, said on social media that it was “devastated and shocked by the accident”, and that it was helping the Cheung family in making “arrangements.”

The Hong Kong Immigration Department said it was learning more about the incident through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ­office in Hong Kong and the ­Chinese embassy in Melbourne after receiving a call for assistance.

The department added that it would provide help according to any requests by Cheung’s family.

Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority spokesman Peter Gibson said the plane was on a dual training flight when it crashed. He said the plane had sent out a distress call as it went down.

Witness Kane Loveday, who was driving in the area during the incident, said the plane’s engine did not sound right.

“It sounded like a lack of power and before I could see anything it was below the tree line,” he said.

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The training plane, which was registered to the Learn to Fly Melbourne school based at Moorabbin Airport, was manufactured in 2011 and sold to the flight school in early 2016, according to media reports.

According to the website, a basic two-day course for beginners cost A$1,161(HK$7,200). ­Participants must be 14 or above and be able to communicate in English.

The company also has offices in Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai. Calls to the Hong Kong office yesterday went unanswered.

Hong Kong lawmaker and ­pilot Jeremy Tam Man-ho, said that pilot courses in Hong Kong were more expensive than overseas, so people preferred to apply for a licence overseas.