Plane catches fire at Warrnambool airport

Destroyed: The plane that was gutted by fire at Warrnambool Airport. Pictures: Christine Ansorge
Destroyed: The plane that was gutted by fire at Warrnambool Airport. Pictures: Christine Ansorge

A 20-year-old Tarrington man had a lucky escape when the single-engine Piper Warrior plane he had just landed at Warrnambool airport caught fire about 11am on Friday.

Mixed luck: The engine fire started when the plane was on the ground and the pilot was able to make an escape.

Mixed luck: The engine fire started when the plane was on the ground and the pilot was able to make an escape.

Desperate efforts by Air Ambulance staff at the airport to extinguish the flames failed and the fire spread to leave the plane a charred wreck.

Big response: Emergency vehicles gather around the burnt plane, far left, on a runway at Warrnambool Airport.

Big response: Emergency vehicles gather around the burnt plane, far left, on a runway at Warrnambool Airport.

It was owned by Ken Veal of Warrnambool who said the $60,000 plane was “a write-off”.

Mr Veal said he had owned the plane for 12 months and had not had problems with it before.

“It was Friday the 13th,” he joked.

Acting Sergeant Jarrod Chatfield of Warrnambool police said the young pilot, who was the sole occupant of the plane, had just completed a two kilometre flight circuit and was about to take off again when the engine became unresponsive.

He noticed smoke coming from the engine and left the plane uninjured.

Air Ambulance crew officer Joel Young said he and an aircraft engineer rushed to the plane with extinguishers after the pilot’s younger brother ran into the Air Ambulance hanger saying his brother’s plane was on fire.

“We got a few extinguishers off the tractor and we got the pilot away from the fire,” Mr Young said.

He said the pilot was trying to get the aircraft off the runway into a safer position when they arrived.

“We emptied the extinguishers and smothered it a little bit but then it took off again and then we had to get out of there and call the CFA.

“There was a bit of flame from underneath the bonnet as we got there and then it started transferring to the cabin.

“The wings are half filled with fuel and he was lucky that they did not ignite,” Mr Young said.

Emergency services were called at 11.24am and eight CFA appliances attended and had extinguished the blaze with foam by 11.46am.

Mr Veal said it was the first time he had hired the plane to the pilot, who had a commercial licence. The plane was also used for training pilots, he said.

Mr Veal is a keen pilot himself and said he had flown the Piper Warrior many times.

Acting Sergeant Chatfield said the Australian Transport Safety Bureau would be notified of the plane fire. The ATSB is Australia's national transport safety investigator.