On 26 January 2011, at about 1315 Eastern Standard Time, a Robinson Company R44 Clipper II helicopter, registered VH-HFG, departed the Knuckle Reef Helipad, Queensland, for a 20 minute charter flight. On board the helicopter, were the pilot and three passengers. While returning to the Helipad 15 minutes later, at about 950 ft above mean sea level, the helicopter experienced mechanical problems, including a sudden loss of cylinder head temperature indication and variations in the engine manifold pressure.
The helicopter was unable to maintain altitude and began to descend at 200 ft a minute. The pilot elected to conduct a precautionary water landing, about 3.5 NM (6.5 km) south of Knuckle Reef and 0.5 NM (0.9 km) east of Line Reef. The pilot inflated the emergency floats, commenced an auto rotation at 500 ft and landed on the sea in a 1.5 m swell. The pilot secured the helicopter and radioed his GPS coordinates to another helicopter, who relayed these to Hamilton Island air traffic control. The other helicopter then liaised with the passenger transfer boat from Knuckle Reef, which picked up the pilot and passengers from HFG.
The helicopter was unable to be recovered before rapidly drifting into the path of an oncoming cyclone. A subsequent search failed to locate the helicopter which is presumed to have sunk.
The pilot's training underpinned the successful precautionary autorotation water landing onto a 1.5 m swell, thereby preventing significant injuries to the occupants