The scene at Upper Pilton from September 2008, with police examining the wreckage of the Piper Pawnee Brave crop-duster.
The scene at Upper Pilton from September 2008, with police examining the wreckage of the Piper Pawnee Brave crop-duster.

Turbulence blamed for fatal crash

EXTREME turbulence has been blamed for the death of a popular pilot whose crop-duster crashed north of Warwick in 2008.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau yesterday released its findings into the death of 38-year-old Toowoomba-based pilot Greg Cochran, who died when his Piper Pawnee Brave plunged to the ground in the Pilton Valley on September 28, 2008.

Mr Cochran, a father of three, had been broadcasting mouse baits in wheat at low level during that year's damaging mouse plague.

The aircraft caught fire but it is believed Mr Cochran died on impact shortly before 2.30pm.

The ATSB report states that weather conditions in the area deteriorated during the day of the crash due to a front moving in from the south-west, bringing with it wind gusts of up to 31 knots.

The bureau found this, combined with the topography of the valley, which can increase turbulence – known as “mountain wave” activity – had caused Mr Cochran to lose control of the crop-duster, which was owned by a Goondiwindi firm.

Investigators were satisfied Mr Cochran was in good health and had been well rested before taking off from his private airstrip at Oakey that morning, but could not rule out the extent to which the urgency of the mouse-baiting task had prompted him to stay in the air despite the worsening conditions.

They also pointed to his “relatively limited” agricultural flying experience but were unable to establish the extent to which this contributed to the crash.

“The pilot was an experienced pilot with extensive experience on a variety of large jet and air transport-category aircraft types,” the report states.

“While it could be expected he was well aware of the risks (of) mountain wave activity and other turbulence events at higher altitudes, he may not have previously experienced the potential impact on low-level operations.”

“It was also possible that the pilot may have been concerned with the urgency of completing the baiting task irrespective of the increased risk due to the conditions.

“That preoccupation could have influenced his decision to continue in the adverse conditions.”

Speaking at the time of the tragedy, Mr Cochran's distraught father Bernard told the Toowoomba Chronicle his son had died doing “all that he ever wanted to do” and had an “unparalleled” skill and love for the air.

“He never took a chance. He would fly over a property twice to check locations of trees and powerlines – my son was an extraordinary pilot, but a beautiful man.”

Mr Cochran moved to Cambooya in 2004 after turning down a position as an Emirates captain to spend more time with his family.

The family later moved to Mount Lofty at Toowoomba, with Mr Cochran at that time about to sell his crop-dusting business after taking a job as general manager of CareFlight International.



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