FATAL FLIGHT: The crash scene at Wallup, north of Horsham.
Photo: Wimmera Mail-Times
The ATSB will be investigating whether rain was a factor in the crash.
A 15-year-old girl who was killed in a light plane crash in western Victoria last night was returning home on a charity flight after being treated for a serious medical condition at a Melbourne hospital.
The teenager and the 69-year-old pilot were killed instantly when their plane went down in bad weather in a paddock in Wallup, about 40 kilometres north of Horsham, about 6.30pm.
The girl’s 43-year-old mother, who was also on the flight, is in a critical condition in the Royal Melbourne Hospital today with head, chest and rib injuries.
The Piper Cherokee aircraft was chartered by Angel Flight, a charity that co-ordinates non-emergency flights to help country people access medical services.
Angel Flight CEO Bill Bristow said the girl and her mother, from Nhill, about 60 kilometres west of Wallup, had made 20 trips with Angel Flight over the past five years for the girl to receive treatment at a Melbourne Hospital.
He said the flight took off at Essendon Airport as scheduled yesterday afternoon, but the girl’s father phoned Angel Flight shortly about 6.30pm to say the flight had not arrived in Wallup.
‘‘He then started to chase it up through the various aviation bodies, Air Services Australia, who handle the air traffic control information,’’ Mr Bristow said.
A farmer called triple-0 about 6.30pm after seeing a low flying plane and then hearing a loud crash.
‘‘I heard the plane fly over probably about 6.15pm, flying low, heard the throttle, heard him throttle back a little bit... sounded fine, kept going, that’s the last I heard and saw,’’ a local man told ABC Radio.
Emergency services were sent to look for any signs of wreckage and found the plane in a paddock off McLennans Road about two hours later.
Mr Bristow said the pilot, from Yarrawonga, was volunteering his services, as did all the pilots for Angel Flight.
He considered the pilot to be ‘‘quite senior’’ with many hours of experience in the air.
‘‘He had over 800 hours of command experience, which in light aircraft terms represents 10-15 years of experience,’’ Mr Bristow said.
‘‘He had a night rating for night flight. All his medicals and his tests were up to date. What happened of course I have no idea, nor does anyone else. You just have to wait for investigators to look into it. That can be months.’’
He said he could not divulge what medical condition the girl was suffering, but said a social worker would probably have referred her to Angel Flight to cover the vast distances to receive medical treatment.
‘‘All our patients are financially doing it tough, as well as cosmetically in that they face daunting distances for travel so they are largely under the wing of a social worker,’’ he said.
‘‘I’m of course very hopeful that this doesn’t in any way affect rural people needing our help to ring and ask for it. We’ve done over 11,000 flights without incident but this comes as a body blow.’’
Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigators will this morning examine the wreckage to determine the cause of the crash.
Neville Blyth, duty manager at the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said a team of four aviation safety investigators were expected to arrive on the scene about midday on Tuesday to take over the investigation from police.
They will conduct a preliminary site survey, examining the site and any evidence of impact marks, he said.
‘‘They will also be talking to witnesses, both eye witnesses and audio witnesses, that heard an aircraft flying low or a bang,’’ Mr Blyth said.
‘‘We’ll also be interested in weather conditions at the time, if it was raining heavily, winds at the time, all the things that have an impact on aviation.’’
Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Dean Stewart said winds in the area at the time of the crash had not been excessive. He said there had been rain in the area earlier on Monday afternoon which would have made the air moist, with low cloud and the possibility of light showers.
A charity flight transporting a sick girl back from hospital turned to tragedy last night when the plane crashed in bad weather in Victoria's west, killing the girl and the aircraft's pilot.
The plane, which came down in a paddock at Wallup near Horsham at 6:30pm, was chartered by the Angel Flight charity which helps transfer patients from regional areas for treatment.
The 15-year-old girl from Nhill and the 69-year-old volunteer pilot from Yarrawonga died in the crash.
A 43-year-old woman, who is believed to be the girl's mother, is in a critical condition in hospital in Melbourne.
Angel Flight chairman Bill Bristow said the girl was a patient on her way from Essendon to Nhill and described the crash as a "terrible tragedy".
"It was her 24th flight back and forth to Essendon," he said.
"The girl's father rang Angel Flight to say that the flight had not arrived, it was late, and did we know anything.
"Then we talked to air traffic control who advised us that there had been a problem.
"It's hard to measure the size of a tragedy like this, the ripple effects of the death on the family and friends of the passengers in the aircraft, and of course not to forget the family and friends of the pilot of the aircraft."
Mr Bristow said the pilot was experienced and had more than 800 hours flying time under his belt.
"He's flown I think it's 25 missions for Angel Flight, so a very experienced pilot."
It took emergency crews about an hour-and-a-half to find the wreck, after a local reported seeing a low-flying plane and heard a loud bang.
Locals say it was raining heavily at the time of the crash and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau's (ATSB) Neville Blyth says the weather will be one factor considered by crash investigators.
"We'll obviously be looking at the weather and the meteorological conditions that might have been present last night, just to see if there have been any contributing factors in that regard," he said.
"There is a wet spell that's been moving through the area, so it's going to make it a little bit difficult for the investigation teams.
"The physical condition of the aircraft, the pilot's preparedness, the weather conditions at the time, all of that type of stuff [will be considered]."
Local resident Rob McRae says he heard the plane fly over his house.
"Heard a plane fly over, probably about 6:15pm, fairly low, heard him throttle back a little bit and then he headed towards Horsham from our place," he said.
"Sounded fine, kept going. That's the last I heard and saw."