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Analysis

Summary

The circumstances leading to the loss of engine power were consistent with fuel exhaustion. The same consumption rate achieved on the flight from Bankstown to Moruya would have used all the helicopter's useable fuel in the elapsed flight time from Moruya to the accident site at Raymond Island.

The lack of any recorded fuel consumption checks meant that actual fuel consumption rates were not readily available to pilots flying the helicopter. This meant significant differences between planned and actual fuel consumption rates remained undetected. However, the quantity of fuel added at Moruya was greater than the planned fuel burn-off and should have alerted the pilot to the need for a check of the helicopter's actual fuel consumption. The remaining useable fuel at Moruya represented the minimum recommended allowance of 20 minutes fixed reserve. Any attempt to fly a greater distance under those conditions would have only been achieved by reducing the reserve fuel allowance.

The fuel consumption rate may have been masked by the reported anomalous fuel quantity indication. The reported 1/4 indication on the fuel gauge prior to the loss of engine power was just greater than the quantity that the pilot would have expected at his planned consumption rate. This may have reinforced his assessment of the actual fuel status and caused him to doubt the veracity of the low fuel warning.

Pilots of single-engine aircraft should always consider the possibility of an in-flight engine failure and its consequences. The engine failure occurred over water and at an altitude that did not permit an unpowered descent to a suitable land emergency landing site. This meant that the pilot was not in a position to conduct a forced landing without risk of damage to the helicopter and possible injury to its occupants. Evidence at the accident site suggested that contact with the tree canopy was not consistent with an autorotation landing that would have achieved minimum forward speed and rate of descent as recommended in the flight manual. Consequently, the attempted landing into the tree canopy did not achieve optimum conditions for survival.

Witnesses immediately initiated search and rescue action. However, had the helicopter not been seen just before descending into the trees, as might have been the case in more remote parts of the island, the consequences of not carrying an ELT may have been crucial to the survival of both the pilot and passenger.

 
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