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calls for the introduction of power line marking schemes following the investigation into the Merriton light aircraft crash

Transportation safety advocates are calling for more utilities to subsidize markings on power lines near runways in rural areas to prevent more fatal accidents.

A father and son of a family from South Australia’s mid-north lost their lives last October when the light aircraft they were traveling in hit a power line on a rural property in Merriton, near Crystal Brook.

On Sunday afternoon, 50-year-old Ben Mumford and his son Charlie, 24, took off from the paddock in a Cessna 172N piloted by Ben.

It is believed they may have intended to fly to Kangaroo Island, but transport security authorities were unable to confirm the plane’s route.

At 4:12 p.m., the plane returned home and Mumford attempted to land at the western end of the rural airport on his property.

The plane’s wing crossed a single aerial power line extending diagonally across the paddock and crashed, causing a fire.

The charred remains of a small plane in the paddock

Remains of a plane that crashed in October last year.(ABC news)

Charlie died at the scene and his father was taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, but died a few hours after the accident.

The findings of an Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigation released last week concluded that “the pilot was likely unconscious and did not notice” the power line.

A common threat

Power lines are extremely difficult for pilots to see while flying.

director of transport safety ATSB, Stuart Godley said light aircraft hitting power lines was a “fairly common” occurrence in Australia.

“Typically, by the time the pilot sees them, they are too close to avoid,” Dr. Godley said.

The ATSB said it receives about 30 reports of wire strike accidents each year, but most cases involved aircraft flying low over paddocks performing agricultural spraying.

A side-by-side photo of a father in a hat and his son in a suit

Father and son, Ben (left) and Charlie Mumford, died in the crash.(Delivered/Instagram)

Aviation safety advisor Terry Horsam conducts workshops for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

He said they don’t teach pilots how to look for overhead power lines while flying.

“The wire is almost invisible to the naked eye, but look for the poles, they are fairly evenly distributed but not always that visible,” Horsam said.

Two ways to reduce risk are pilot awareness – knowing where power lines are located and planning flight paths – and visible power line markers.

Burden on property owners

Although larger airports or CASA certified airports are inspected and all potential hazards are marked, there is no legal requirement to mark power lines near rural airports on private property.

In South Australia, property owners can pay SA Power Networks to install power line signs, which the electricity distributor will then maintain.

Power lines near the Mumford property were not marked for private aviation purposes, but SA Power Networks installed several repurposed orange buoys as markers for its own inspections.

Power lines with markers mounted on them.

SA Power Networks installed its own markers on power lines near the Merriton disaster for its own inspections.(Delivered: ATSB Power Networks, SA)

Queensland utility Energex runs a Rotamark incentive program that reduces purchase costs of up to 10 tags for rural landowners, and SafeWork NSW offers rebates of up to $1000 to small businesses that purchase and install safety equipment, including aviation tags.

There is no such program in South Australia and Mr Horsam wanted to change that.

“Anything that increases the visibility of these wires will help pilots see them and therefore avoid them,” Horsam said.

Dr Godley said a subsidy program would be helpful, but ultimately it was the pilot’s responsibility to prepare before the flight.

“It’s really, really important that something like this happens across the country, but ultimately it’s up to the property owner to determine which wires are going to be placed in the path of the planes,” he said.

SA Power Networks acting director of corporate affairs Cecilia Schutz said the distributor had invested in campaigns highlighting farm safety and would support a program to subsidize the cost of installing overhead power line markers on private property.

“SA power grids would be open to exploring this initiative in partnership with the South Australian Government and other key stakeholders,” Ms Schutz said.