Aviation safety investigations & reports

Ditching - Robinson R44 helicopter, VH-HOT, 2 km E of Cairns, Qld, 3 Jan 2011

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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On 3 January 2011, at about 1530 Eastern Standard Time a Robinson Company R44 Raven 1 Clipper helicopter, registered VH-HOT, departed Cairns Airport, Queensland for a 30 minute charter flight. On board the helicopter was the pilot and three non-English speaking passengers. About 25 minutes into the flight, at about 400 ft above sea level, the engine failed and the rotor low rpm horn sounded. The pilot broadcast a Mayday and entered autorotation. During the descent he deployed the inflatable floats, however the right float did not fully inflate.

The pilot stated that at 50 ft above the sea, the helicopter entered an uncommanded 3600 yaw to the left. The pilot was unable to control the yaw and the helicopter impacted the water heavily and turned onto its right side. The pilot assisted the passengers to egress the helicopter and inflated their life preservers. They were rescued from the water by fishermen in a small boat.

As a result of this accident, the aircraft operator has advised the ATSB that they are taking the following safety actions:

  • A GPS-based flight monitoring system is to be installed on the operator's passenger-carrying aircraft.
  • Cutters for harnesses to be carried on aircraft.
  • A 406MHz impact activated emergency locator beacon to be installed on all company aircraft.
  • Passengers are to be briefed in small groups of 4-6.
  • A review is to be carried out of the emergency response procedure for the operators Cairns base.
  • The operator's latest safety minutes emphasises the requirements and value of using the maintenance release for defect reporting.

In July 2003, the Robinson Helicopter Company released a safety notice, SN-39. This notice addressed unusual vibration that can indicate a main rotor blade crack. It directs pilots to make an immediate safe landing if main rotor vibration rapidly increases, or becomes severe during flight. They are not to attempt to continue flight to a convenient destination.

Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 2.6MB]
Alternate: [Download  DOC: 5.49MB]
General details
Date: 04 January 2011   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1614 EST   Investigation level: Short - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): 2 km E of Cairns    
State: Queensland   Occurrence type: Engine failure or malfunction  
Release date: 16 May 2011   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Robinson Helicopter Co  
Aircraft model R44  
Aircraft registration VH-HOT  
Serial number 1953  
Type of operation Charter  
Sector Helicopter  
Damage to aircraft Serious  
Departure point Cairns, Qld  
Destination Cairns, Qld  
Last update 14 November 2018