In the dark of night a family member sat in a car at the end of a private runway, flashing the headlights to guide in a pilot for bush landing.
But instead of a smooth touchdown the relative watched in horror as the light aircraft clipped nearby trees before plunging to earth, killing the 51-year-old pilot.
The unlit airstrip at rural Boxwood, north of Melbourne, should not have been used at night, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau reported on Monday as part of its analysis of the crash.
Keen to get home after being delayed in Melbourne on business, the pilot flew past numerous nearby airstrips which were suitable for night-time landing.
Instead he phoned ahead and had a family member position a vehicle at the end of the runway, with its lights on high beam, facing the Cirrus SR22 as it came in to land.
“This lighting was inadequate and provided insufficient guidance for the approach and landing,” the ATSB reported.
Via mobile phone the relative told the pilot he was off course, but it was too late.
The plane’s wing struck trees to one side of the airstrip, flipping the aircraft and sending it nose-first into the ground at high speed.
At the time of the crash – about 6pm on June 27, 2013 – the ATSB found that conditions were overcast with no wind.
The pilot had renewed his licence two months earlier and reported that a majority of his recent flying time had been at night.
On previous occasions he landed at nearby Benalla when returning to the Boxwood after dark.
The ATSB have not released the pilot’s name or details of the relative who witnessed the crash.