Aviation safety investigations & reports

Collision with terrain - MD Helicopters Inc.369D, YJ-HEL, Unua village, Malekula, Vanuatu, 26 August 2011

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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What happened

On 26 August 2011, the pilot of an MD Helicopter Inc. 369D helicopter, registered YJ‑HEL, was conducting sling load operations near a small village 183 km north‑north‑west of Port Vila, Vanuatu. As the helicopter approached the village, with two passengers onboard, witnesses heard a single, loud bang and watched the helicopter fall 10 to 15 m to the ground before coming to rest on its right side. One of the passengers received minor injuries and was able to exit the helicopter unaided. The other passenger received serious injuries and the pilot was fatally injured.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB found that as the helicopter approached the village to land, the wire rope attached to the helicopter’s cargo hook contacted a tree. That contact resulted in the rope fouling on the main rotor blades, which in turn led to the detachment of segments of the rotor blades and the tail boom. This rendered the helicopter uncontrollable. It was also found that the occupants of the helicopter were not wearing the installed shoulder harness restraints or using flight helmets during the flight.

What has been done as a result

This investigation was conducted by the ATSB at the request of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vanuatu and no organisational or systemic issues that might adversely affect the future of aviation operations in Vanuatu were identified.

Safety message

The circumstances of this accident serve as a reminder that the severity of contact injuries in survivable helicopter accidents can be significantly reduced by the use of shoulder harnesses and protective flight helmets. As such, pilots and operators should consider the use of such equipment in the interest of enhancing survivability should an accident occur.

Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 2.04MB]
Alternate: [Download  DOC: 8.59MB]
General details
Date: 26 August 2011   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1525 VUT or 0425 UTC   Investigation level: Systemic - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Unua village, Malekula, Vanuatu    
State: International   Occurrence type: Collision with terrain  
Release date: 02 October 2012   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Fatal  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer McDonnell Douglas Corp.  
Aircraft model 369  
Aircraft registration YJ-HEL  
Serial number 80778D  
Type of operation Aerial Work  
Damage to aircraft Destroyed  
Departure point Maleluka Island, Vanuatu  
Destination Maleluka Island, Vanuatu  
Last update 06 May 2020