Keen situational awareness required to avoid obstacles in confined and new places

The ATSB is highlighting the need for pilots to have keen situational awareness when flying near obstacles, particularly in confined and unfamiliar locations.

Smart phone image of VH-PHU’s main rotor blade tip strike with intruding vegetation. Source: Allister Gleeson

The ATSB’s investigation into a main rotor tip strike involving a Eurocopter AS350-BA VH-PHU, 9 km WNW of St. Leonards (ALA) in Victoria found the pilot did not notice an obstacle encroaching into the helicopter landing site (HLS).

The pilot of the Eurocopter approached the Jack Rabbit Vineyard HLS (a tennis court) on 4 July 2017. This was the first time the pilot had used the site. During the approach the pilot identified the key boundaries of the site, including a brick wall at its southern end, but did not notice vegetation intruding into the site.  

Believing that another helicopter was moving into the site, the pilot slowly hover-taxied the helicopter towards the south-west corner of the site. The tips of the helicopter’s main rotor blades struck the vegetation. The pilot was able to safety land and reposition clear of the obstacle. The incident resulted in damage to all three main rotor tips.

All pilots, no matter how experienced, are not immune to errors and experience alone will not protect them from an accident.

ATSB Executive Director Transport Safety Nat Nagy says the incident reinforced the need for pilots to have strong situational awareness when flying near obstacles.

“Strong situational awareness is critical to maintaining aircraft safety, especially when flying in new and confined locations,” Mr Nagy said. “To get a good understanding of a landing site, pilots are encouraged to do a 360-degree reconnaissance.”

“In this instance, the pilot did an abbreviated reconnaissance and didn’t notice an obstacle that needed to be avoided.”

The ATSB investigation found this choice of reconnaissance may have been the result of the pilot’s over-confidence in their pre-planning and flying ability.

“All pilots, no matter how experienced, are not immune to errors and experience alone will not protect them from an accident,” Mr Nagy said.

For insights into how accidents can happen to experienced pilots, download a copy of the ATSB publication, Avoidable Accidents No.6 – Experience won’t always save you: Pilot experience is not always a protection against an accident, from the ATSB website.

Investigation report: AO-2017-074 Main rotor tip strike involving Eurocopter AS350-BA, VH-PHU, 9 km WNW St. Leonards (ALA), Victoria, on 4 July 2017

Last update 02 May 2018