WITNESSES to a fatal Maitland plane crash have told transport investigators that the craft was flying "low and slow" with a stationary propeller during its fateful approach to a runway it would never reach.
The amateur-built Osprey 2 amphibious aircraft had been making its third flight when pilot Andy Shepherd departed Maitland Airport about 10am on May 17 under a special certificate of airworthiness allowing it to be flight tested.
"The planned flight involved climbing to 3000 feet to conduct flight-testing over the airfield," Australian Transport Safety Bureau director transport safety Stuart Macleod said. "However, about three minutes after taking off to the south-west from Maitland's runway 23, witnesses on the ground at the airfield observed white smoke coming from the aircraft."
The pilot noted via radio that his engine was running rough and he planned to return to Maitland Airport.
The ATSB said the engine subsequently failed completely and the pilot changed runways, shifting to one that required a western approach.
The report notes that witnesses saw the vehicle moving "low and slow" with no engine sound. Several said its propeller was not spinning.
"The aircraft was then observed to roll to the left, descend and impact the ground," Mr Macleod said.
The pilot died in the crash despite efforts of nearby residents to offer first aid. The aircraft was destroyed
"The investigation is continuing and will include examination of the aircraft's engine, maintenance documentation and operational records along with build documentation. Investigators will also examine recovered instruments and electronic devices, the aircraft's performance characteristics and recorded flight data, and the pilot's qualifications and experience," Mr Macleod said.
"During the course of the investigation, should safety critical information be discovered at any time, the ATSB will immediately notify stakeholders so that appropriate and timely safety action can be taken."
The final report on the incident will explore the aircraft's engine, its maintenance and operation records, documentation on the build, data from instruments and devices recovered from the crash and the pilot's qualifications and experience.
Police had described the 44-year-old as "very experienced" at the time of the crash.