Safety summary


What happened

At 0900 Eastern Standard Time on 22 July 2011, a Bell 206L helicopter, registered VH-CIV, with a pilot and one passenger, departed from Rosehill, New South Wales on a private flight to the Sydney Adventist Hospital near South Turramurra. As the aircraft neared the destination, the pilot encountered low cloud and rain in the area. Shortly thereafter, witnesses observed the helicopter descending rapidly, with the tail section separated. The helicopter subsequently collided with terrain, fatally injuring both occupants.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB found it was likely that during manoeuvring in the area of low cloud and rain, the pilot inadvertently flew into reduced visibility conditions, leading to the onset of disorientation and a loss of control of the helicopter.

What has been done as a result

There were no systemic safety issues identified as a result of the ATSB investigation and no specific safety actions taken. An ATSB research report released in July 2011 addressing avoidable accidents is relevant to the circumstances found during the investigation of this accident.

Safety message

The hazards associated with visual flight into conditions of limited visibility are significant. The ATSB has investigated a number of accidents associated with visual flight rules (VFR) flight into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), and has published several research reports into the factors that can contribute to this type of accident. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) also maintains a library of advisory materials aimed at assisting pilots in decision-making before and during visual flights in conditions where continued visibility cannot be assured.

Pilots and operators are encouraged to familiarise themselves with guidance material on safe visual flight operations, and use this to develop appropriate strategies for planning and in-flight decision making if reduced visibility conditions are encountered.

Although no definitive conclusion could be made with respect to the extent to which any external pressures may have affected the pilot’s decision making, the accident does serve as a reminder to pilots of the need to manage pressures and external factors in the planning and conduct of any flight.