AIR safety investigators yesterday began closely examining the wreckage of a light plane which crashed near Hamilton airport on Tuesday night, killing its 20-year-old trainee pilot.
The trio are expected to be in the area for three days looking for clues on what caused the tragedy, which has shocked the aviation community.
Witnesses and nearby residents will be interviewed as part of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau probe, which will be detailed in a later written report.
The pilot, believed to be from metropolitan Sydney, had been conducting solo night flying drills when his single-engine Cessna 182 crashed just after a take-off manoeuvre.
It dived into a farm paddock about six kilometres north of the airport just before 8pm, bursting into flames on impact.
Debris was scattered around the site, which is closed off to the public.
His classmates in the Sharp Aviation Flying School are in shock and have been given counselling.
Company managing director Malcolm Sharp told The Standard yesterday classes had been suspended indefinitely to allow time for mourning.
“This has had an effect on other students and they need time to grieve,” Mr Sharp said.
“The young pilot was very well liked in the local community.”
It is understood there are about 12 students in the class, which is one of several conducted by the company for people seeking flying experience to gain their commercial licence.
In the company’s 23 years of operation it has never before had an incident involving injury or death, Mr Sharp said.
A spokesman for the bureau said the investigations would first focus on “perishable” areas, including ground marks and wreckage distribution.
Some components may be taken away for further expert examination, the spokesman said.
“Our investigations are thorough,” he said.
“We will examine records and weather conditions.
“Witnesses will be interviewed and we encourage people to contact us.
“We will produce an independent investigation report, which is usually completed within a year of the incident.”
Southern Grampians Shire Council mayor Albert Calvano extended his sympathy to the victim’s family and friends and the flying school.
“When an accident like this happens it is felt throughout the community,” he said.