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On 30 April 2011, the owner-pilot of a Robinson Helicopter Co. R44 helicopter, registered VH-ETT, was conducting a local flight from a private property located near Kilmore Gap, Victoria. During low-level manoeuvring at low speed around a dam, the pilot lost directional control and landed heavily in the water. The helicopter was seriously damaged; the pilot and passenger sustained minor injuries.

The investigation found that the helicopter was probably serviceable and that the loss of directional control was likely to be a result of a loss of tail rotor effectiveness.

The emergency locator transmitter (ELT) activated on impact and prompted an effective search and rescue (SAR) response through a broadcast on the 121.5 MHz frequency. However, the 406 MHz transmission that was monitored by the SAR agency did not trigger an alert or provide identification information. As a result, there was no assurance of an immediate and effective response from the SAR agency.

The investigation found that the ELT could be programmed with identification information either directly or (if fitted) by input from a component (dongle) in the ELT wiring connector. In this occurrence, the ELT had been inadvertently reprogrammed with incorrect information from the dongle.

A minor safety issue was identified in that there were only subtle cues to distinguish programmable dongles from the standard-type wiring connector. There was also variability in the conduct of post-installation ELT testing.

In response, on 6 June 2011, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) published Airworthiness Bulletin 25-018 to alert maintenance organisations to the risk of programming dongles transferring potentially invalid details to the memory of ELTs. CASA advised that an article in Flight Safety Australia would also highlight the issue.

The helicopter manufacturer advised that they were introducing measures to increase awareness of programming dongles in their new helicopters.

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Safety issue

AO-2011-055-SI-01 -  

Emergency Locator Transmitter re-programming risk

There were only subtle cues to the fitment of programming dongles and no requirement to test Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) programming after installation, increasing the risk of inadvertent and undetected ELT re-programming and a less effective search and rescue response.
Safety issue details
Issue number:AO-2011-055-SI-01
Who it affects:
Status:Adequately addressed

General details
Date: 30 April 2011 Investigation status: Completed 
Time: 1305 EST  
Location   (show map):4 km south-east of Kilmore Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
State: Victoria Occurrence type: Loss of control 
Release date: 08 August 2011 Occurrence class: Operational 
Report status: Final Occurrence category: Accident 
 Highest injury level: Minor 
Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer: Robinson Helicopter Co 
Aircraft model: R44 
Aircraft registration: VH-ETT 
Serial number: 1946 
Type of operation: Private 
Sector: Helicopter 
Damage to aircraft: Serious 
Departure point:Moorabin,VIC
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Last update 01 March 2016