A LIGHT aircraft crashed shortly after take-off from Hamilton airport last night, killing a 20-year-old trainee pilot from New South Wales.
Emergency services rushed to the crash site in a farm paddock, about six kilometres north of the main runway.
Senior Sergeant Steve Thompson, of Southern Grampians police area, said the accident happened about 8pm.
He said the trainee commercial pilot with Sharp Aviation Flying School crashed into a farm paddock north of the airport.
The trainee pilot had been taking part in solo night flying manoeuvres, which included take-off and landing.
It is understood his single-engine Cessna 182 was destroyed in a fiery impact and debris was scattered across an area up to 200 metres.
Senior Sergeant Thompson said wreckage from the Cessna 182 had been cordoned off and police were guarding the area until air safety investigators arrive from Canberra this morning.
Sharp Aviation managing director Malcolm Sharp said: “We’re all very upset. It’s a huge tragedy all round.
“Our company has been operating for 23 years and this is the first incident involving injury or fatality.
“We have extended our sympathy and support to the pilot’s family.”
Local aviation enthusiasts were in shock.
Hamilton Aero Club president Kelvin Rogers said it was the first local air fatality in more than 25 years.
“Hamilton is a widely-used commercial and private airport and has a high safety record,” Mr Rogers said.
Police media liaison spokeswoman Kate Millar said police were investigating and would prepare a report for the coroner.
Police will also assist the Australian Transport Safety Bureau in investigating the circumstances of the crash.
A Country Fire Authority media spokeswoman said seven units attended the incident.