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Analysis

Summary

The circumstances of the accident indicated that the pilot continued the flight into adverse weather conditions to the point where flight using external visual reference was no longer possible. Because the helicopter was not certified for instrument flight, and the pilot's instrument flying experience was minimal, continuation of the flight in the deteriorating conditions, including turning the helicopter onto a reciprocal track without visual cues, involved risk. The pilot's only viable option at that point was to attempt a water landing. In the event, there was insufficient outside visual reference for him to achieve a skids level, zero speed landing.

The pilot indicated that initially there was a gradual, rather than sudden, decrease in visibility. However, the deterioration from low visibility to white-out conditions occurred very rapidly.

There was no indication that a return to Green Island or tracking via another route formed part of the pilot's strategy for the flight. A number of factors could have contributed to this:

  1. The pilot's operating culture was conditioned from having "got through" adverse weather on previous occasions.
  2. Having decided to track via the shipping channel because of turbulence considerations on the coastal route, the pilot effectively "locked out" the coastal route as an alternate course of action.
  3. The weather information passed by the tower controller probably placed an expectation in the pilot's mind that he could negotiate the weather successfully.
  4. The pilot may have experienced subtle pressure as result of the "have a good look before turning back" culture.

The recorded radar data indicated that the pilot maintained steady control of altitude and speed through most of the flight. The only significant deviation occurred when the controller noted and advised the pilot of the altitude change from 100 ft to 200 ft and back again. This information does not indicate that the malfunctioning ASI had a significant affect on the pilot's control of the helicopter, or the eventual outcome of the flight.

The elapsed time between activation of the airport emergency plan and the ARFF rescue boat's arrival at the crash scene was 22 minutes. The journey from the airport to the Marlin Marina boat ramp took 17 minutes. While there was no consequence for this accident, the absence of a boat ramp into the Barron River at the airport added significantly to the rescue boat launching time.

 
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