The plane carrying Australian Ian McDougall on an aerial survey in East Kalimantan in Indonesia was just 60 metres short of a probable successful emergency landing when it crashed late on Wednesday afternoon.
Minutes earlier, Mr McDougall, from Bacchus Marsh in Victoria, sent a text message to his company, PT Surtech Utama Indonesia, saying the plane had a fuel problem.
In what was perhaps his last communication, Mr McDougall said the pilot, South African Jonathan Willis, was about to attempt an emergency landing.
The two men were confirmed dead on Thursday morning after their bodies were recovered from the wreckage of the small single-engine aircraft, owned and operated by Susi Air, just 60 metres from a road near the remote village of Ritan.
Mr McDougall, 57, an aerial survey specialist, lived in Indonesia.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra said his family in Indonesia was receiving consular assistance and efforts were being made to contact his relatives in Australia.
Mr McDougall and Mr Willis, 28, had been nearing the end of a six-hour survey flight and were about to begin the homeward leg to Balikpapan, also in East Kalimantan, where they had set out from at 12.40pm, when they got into trouble.
Details of the plane's flight path, released by Susi Air, showed the aircraft was at an altitude of 287m at its last point of contact at 5.22pm on Wednesday afternoon.
Susi Air's director of operations Christian Von Strombeck said on Thursday it appeared that when the plane came down, the pilot was aiming for a road that was 300 metres long and 20 metres wide.
"We have to assume the engine was not running at that point," Mr Von Strombeck said.
But he added that the plane, a Pilatus Porter, was able to glide "fairly well" and that the pilot was trained to land even with the loss of the engine.
"We're looking at a very, very small margin that could have made this a very different story," he said.
Instead, the airline was on Thursday dealing with the fallout of its third fatal accident in the space of a year.
Mr Von Strombeck said the plane had not run out of fuel, but fuel management may have been a contributing factor, indicating the possibility of pilot error.
"There are things that can go wrong or get missed," he said.
He said Mr Willis's experience and skill level as a pilot were "very good".
Weather has been ruled out as a possible cause of the crash.
The owner of the airline, Susi Pudjiastuti, said the shock and sense of loss from the accident had made her ask whether she could continue operating the airline, which flies in areas not served by other companies.
"It's a question I ask myself sometimes, should I stop all this?" Ms Susi said.
"This has happened again. It's not an easy thing to deal with."
In September 2011, Australian David Cootes was killed along with his Slovakian co-pilot Tomas Munk when their Susi Air turbo-prop single-engine aircraft went down in poor weather in rugged highlands in Papua.
The two pilots had been midway through a one-hour flight from Wamena to the village of Kenyam in the eastern Indonesian province.
Another Susi Air plane crashed in November last year while trying to land at Sugapa Airport in Papua, killing a Spanish pilot.
Susi Air has grounded its seven other Pilatus Porter aircraft.