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Pilot focus crucial to safe flying

Robinson R44 accident site

Pilots are being urged to remain focused at all stages of flight following an in-flight distraction that resulted in a fatal accident.

The accident occurred on 4 February 2012 shortly after a Robinson R44 helicopter lifted off from Jaspers Brush Aerodrome, near Nowra in NSW.  

During the lift off, the pilot’s door, which was not securely latched, swung open. The ATSB found that when reaching out to shut the door, the pilot likely let go of the right-hand (cyclic) control. This resulted in the helicopter abruptly pitching nose-up then steeply nose-down. It then rolled to the right and the right landing gear skid and main rotor blades struck the ground. Before the helicopter came to a stop, a fuel-fed fire started around the fuel tanks and lower mast area. Tragically, both occupants of the helicopter died in the accident.

In response to this and a number of other fatal R44 helicopter accidents, the helicopter manufacturer designed rubber bladder-type fuel tanks to replace the original all-aluminium tanks in the R44 and produced a Service Bulletin mandating their fitment.

This was not the first Robinson R44 helicopter accident to result in fatalities from post-impact fire. R44 helicopters which have all-aluminium fuel tanks have proven susceptible to post-accident fuel leaks as a result of an otherwise relatively low-energy impact, increasing the risk of a post-impact fire. In response to this and a number of other fatal R44 helicopter accidents, the helicopter manufacturer designed rubber bladder-type fuel tanks to replace the original all-aluminium tanks in the R44 and produced a Service Bulletin mandating their fitment. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and the ATSB have separately highlighted the safety benefits of retrofitting R44 helicopters with the bladder-type tanks.

The ATSB also issued a Safety Advisory Notice and, following another accident at Bulli Tops, near Wollongong, NSW in which a post-impact fire proved fatal, a Safety Recommendation regarding the dangers of the all-aluminium fuel tanks in the R44. Information on the safety benefits of the installation of bladder-type fuel tanks in the R44 was also circulated through the ATSB’s SafetyWatch web initiative.

Finally, on 29 April 2013 CASA issued an airworthiness directive requiring R44 helicopters fitted with all-aluminium fuel tanks to be retrofitted with bladder-type tanks and clarifying that aircraft being maintained in accordance with the Manufacturer’s Maintenance Schedule are already required to comply with all Robinson Service Bulletins in accordance with Civil Aviation Regulation 42A. More details on airworthiness directive AB/R44/23 can be found at the CASA website.

Read the final investigation report, AO-2012-021, on the ATSB website.

 

 

R44 accident site at Jaspers Brush, NSW

R44_Accident Site Jasper Brush 

 
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Last update 02 March 2016