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On 8 December 2009, at about 1840 Eastern Daylight-saving Time an Aerospatiale AS.350B helicopter, registered VH-NFO (NFO), and a Kawasaki BK117 helicopter, registered VH-LXC (LXC), were engaged in aerial firebombing operations about 20 km south-east of Orange Aerodrome, New South Wales (NSW). During one of the water drop sequences, while in the vicinity of the drop point, LXC‟s main rotor blade tip(s) contacted the trailing edge of NFO‟s vertical fin. There was light damage to NFO and there were no injuries, although the outcome could have been more serious.

There were no published procedures for pilots to follow to ensure separation from other aircraft when there was no air attack supervisor present. Instead, the system relied on the airmanship and experience of pilots to mutually arrange separation. In this case, the water source was about 600 m from the fire front and NFO had departed the water source shortly before LXC. The investigation established that neither pilot was aware of the position of the other helicopter as they approached the drop point.

In response to the occurrence, the NSW Rural Fire Service developed a series of mission management standard operating procedures, including the use of standard terminology for aerial firefighting activities. These were to be introduced to contracted and other operators via a series of workshops commencing in November 2010.

After being approached by a number of firefighting authorities, in July 2009 the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) commenced a Firefighting Review. In November 2009, a Firefighting Operations Manual project team was established including five CASA staff, one fire authority staff member, 11 industry representatives and one consultant to draft a proposed manual.  The aim was for the manual to standardise aerial firefighting procedures across the authorities. At the time of release of this report, the draft manual had been distributed to the various fire authorities for their review.

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Preliminary report released 11 March 2010

On 8 December 2009 at about 1840 Eastern Daylight-saving Time, an Aerospatiale AS350-B2 helicopter, registered VH-NFO (NFO), and a Kawasaki BK117 helicopter, registered VH-LXC (LXC), were engaged in aerial firebombing operations about 20 km south-east of Orange Airport, New South Wales. The pilots were the only occupants of their respective helicopters. After the pilot of NFO had landed to refuel, he noticed damage to the trailing edge of the helicopter's vertical fin. In addition, the plastic navigation light cover on top of the vertical fin was broken. The pilot reported the damage to the pilot of LXC. Examination of LXC did not reveal any apparent damage. There were no injuries.

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Safety issue

AO-2009-075-SI-01 -  

Separation assurance at fire locations

There were no published communications procedures or phraseology that should before used by pilots during firebombing operations to provide separation assurance at fire locations when there was no air attack supervisor present.

Safety issue details
Issue number:AO-2009-075-SI-01
Who it affects:All pilots conducting firebombing operations
Status:Adequately addressed

 
General details
Date: 08 December 2009 Investigation status: Completed 
Time: 1900 ESuT Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
Location   (show map):20 km SE of Orange Occurrence type:Airborne collision 
State: New South Wales Occurrence class: Airspace 
Release date: 29 November 2010 Occurrence category: Serious Incident 
Report status: Final Highest injury level: None 
Expected completion: November 2010  
 
Aircraft 1 details
Aircraft manufacturer: Aerospatiale Industries 
Aircraft model: AS350 
Aircraft registration: VH-NFO 
Serial number: 1823 
Type of operation: Aerial Work 
Sector: Helicopter 
Damage to aircraft: Minor 
Aircraft 2 details
Aircraft manufacturer: Kawasaki Heavy Industries 
Aircraft model: BK117 
Aircraft registration: VH-LXC 
Serial number: 1019 
Type of operation: Aerial Work 
Damage to aircraft: Nil 
Departure point:Bathurst, NSW
Destination:Macquarie Woods, NSW
 
 
 
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Last update 16 November 2015