Published date: 10 December 2020

An in-flight battery fire likely led to a 72-year-old pilot losing control of his glider, which broke up inflight and crashed in Kaikohe in November 2017, says a report by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The CAA released its safety investigation report [PDF 740 KB] today into the accident involving glider ZK-GEL, which showed that “fumes and smoke” would have most likely filled the cockpit and caused the pilot to lose control of his glider after the lithium polymer battery caught fire.

The battery was a part of an Electro 40/30 electric motor used for self-launch take-offs and  to sustain flights. The glider was destroyed and the pilot fatally injured. The crash was considered “not survivable.” It was the first battery fire onboard a glider to occur in New Zealand.

Aviation Safety Deputy Chief Executive Dean Winter said today: “The CAA are warning aviators that batteries must be charged and properly maintained according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If battery damage is suspected due to a sudden impact they must be checked before flying again.

“Battery fires burn at a very fast rate releasing significant energy and toxic fumes. Within seconds a cockpit can be filled with toxic smoke. These fires can be deadly and spread quickly,” Mr Winter said. 

At the time of the accident there were no other battery powered gliders in NZ. We are also concerned any lithium polymer battery in any device or aircraft can cause a fire.”

Other safety actions to avoid this type of accident include: aviators consider fire detection, containment and fire proofing systems; the manufacturer address in-flight battery fires and how to check and charge batteries properly, in the flight and maintenance manuals.

On 16 November 2017, at 1.40pm, the pilot launched his Pipistrel Taurus Electro G2 glider from Kaikohe aerodrome. Sometime between 2.15pm and 5.30pm, the fire broke out while the glider was soaring. 

The glider was making an emergency descent and approach to Kaikohe aerodrome when it exceeded its speed limitations. This led to structural failure of the wings and the glider broke up in-flight, the report says. 

The pilot, who was a member of the local gliding club, held a glider pilot certificate and private pilot helicopter licence. He had 592 hours experience on gliders, with 87.9 hours on the glider ZK-GEL.


Contact the CAA media team for further information:
027 763 0000 |