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Summary

Summary

The helicopter was engaged in the ship-to-shore transfer of a marine pilot at night, and was operating in accordance with the night visual flight rules (NVFR). The ship was reported to be steaming at 14.5 kts, steering 044 degrees M. Weather conditions at the time were reported to be fine, with visibility of 4-5 NM. The night was also reported to have been very dark, with some haze. The sea was almost calm, with a swell ranging between 0.25 m to 0.5 m. The wind was about 5 kts from the ENE and the temperature was about 27 degrees Celsius. The moon was waning, and its bearing relative to the accident site was 027 degrees M, at an elevation of 60 degrees above the horizon.

The deck landing area measured approximately 25 m fore and aft, and 20 m across the ship, which was 23 m wide. The landing surface consisted of steel cargo hatch covers. Sea containers were stacked to a height of 5.2 m, immediately forward of the landing area.

A potential obstacle to the operation was a crane immediately aft of the landing area. In its stowed position, the crane jib would normally be aligned along the fore/aft axis of the ship, above and parallel to the landing area surface. The ship's crew reported that the marine pilot requested the crane's jib be turned 90 degrees to the left side of the ship, and elevated to its upper limit. The pulley block of the crane's hook assembly weighed an estimated 1.1 tonnes and was painted with yellow and black stripes. A lifting hook hung below the block. The crane assembly and the deck landing area were floodlit. A light on the jib illuminated the pulley block. The height of the pulley block at the time of the occurrence could not be positively established. If the crane was hoisted as reported by the ship's crew, its height above the ship's deck was about 20 m. Had the crane been swung as reported by the pilot, the height of the pulley may have been lower than 20 m. The ship's crew reported that the crane operator had vacated the crane tower and was on the deck for the arrival and departure of the helicopter. The helicopter approached the ship from the right side and landed on the forward right hatch cover, facing towards the left side of the ship. The marine pilot boarded the helicopter through the right front door and occupied the right seat. During the subsequent takeoff, there was a collision between the helicopter and the pulley block, and the helicopter fell into the sea, where it floated inverted, supported by the buoyancy of its utility floats. Small pieces of rotor blade debris were found on the ship's deck. A fisherman heard the ship's master report the accident on the marine radio frequency and, after searching for about 25 minutes, located the wrecked helicopter. The passenger was fatally injured, and the pilot sustained minor injuries.

This was the first time the ship's master had accepted a helicopter marine pilot transfer from this ship. He was familiar with helicopter operations onto larger ships. He was hesitant to agree to a helicopter transfer until the ship's agent and the marine pilot convinced him that the size of the proposed landing site was adequate. This was also the first occasion that the helicopter pilot had conducted a marine pilot transfer with this ship. However, he had previously conducted two marine pilot transfers at night onto the sister ship, the most recent being on 11 February 1997.

 
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