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On 1 December 2009 at approximately 0730 EST, the forward, left-side cargo door of a Eurocopter AS350D helicopter (registered VH-PIH) separated from the helicopter fuselage during fire-fighting operations near Maryborough, Queensland. The helicopter subsequently landed safely and there were no injuries.

It was probable that separation of the cargo door occurred as a consequence of replacement of the door seal during a recent overhaul. That replacement resulted in the door sitting proud of the mating surfaces when closed and latched. Elevated air loads acting on the door as a product of its overly proud position would subsequently have led to its fracture.

It was considered that the installation of improved door locks per Service Bulletin SB 52.00.25 and SB 52.00.26 would likely address this safety issue and significantly reduce the likelihood of a future AS350 cargo door separation event.

As a result of this occurrence the operator applied the cargo door lock modifications detailed in SB 52.00.25 and SB 52.00.26 to the new door installed on VH-PIH. In addition, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has issued a Safety Advisory Notice to all operators of Eurocopter AS350 aircraft to consider the implications of the safety issue and take action where considered appropriate.

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