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What happened

On 3 September 2011, the pilot and one crewman of a Robinson Helicopter Company R44 helicopter, registered VH-HCA (HCA), departed an airstrip located near Kumarina roadhouse, approximately 150 km south of Newman, Western Australia. The crew were conducting low-level geophysical survey operations when the pilot was observed to have slumped forward in the seat. The crewman, who was seated behind the pilot, made unsuccessful attempts to rouse the pilot. The helicopter subsequently impacted terrain causing significant injuries to the crewman and pilot. After the impact the pilot regained consciousness but later succumbed to his injuries prior to the arrival of medical assistance.

What the ATSB found

The investigation found that, following the pilot’s probable incapacitation during flight, the helicopter’s descent could not be arrested before impacting terrain. It was likely that the incapacitation was of a similar nature to other previous unconsciousness events reported experienced by the pilot while not flying.

The pilot held a Class 1 Aviation Medical Certificate with no restrictions, despite inconsistencies in recorded information in the pilot’s aviation medical questionnaires, and one previous unconsciousness episode being recorded. If information about the pilot’s medical history had been accurately documented and included on the medical questionnaires, further medical tests may have been required and the results used to better assess the pilot’s current medical status.

What has been done as a result

The ATSB advised the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) of the reporting inconsistencies identified in the pilot’s aviation medical questionnaires. CASA confirmed that the medical section of the CASA website is currently being reviewed and guidance material pertaining to medical issue reporting requirements will be available on that site when that work is complete.

Safety message

In addition to the regular aviation medical assessments, should a pilot become aware of any condition that may affect their ability to safely carry out the privileges of a licence, the advice of a Designated Aviation Medical Examiner (DAME) should be sought. Additionally, all information documented on the pilot’s aviation medical assessment should be checked by the pilot for accuracy and completeness to allow for accurate assessment of medical status and potential risk to the safety of flight.

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General details
Date: 03 September 2011 Investigation status: Completed 
Time: 1057 WST  
Location   (show map):180 km SSW Newman Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
State: Western Australia Occurrence type: Flight crew incapacitation 
Release date: 24 January 2013 Occurrence class: Operational 
Report status: Final Occurrence category: Accident 
 Highest injury level: Fatal 
Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer: Robinson Helicopter Co 
Aircraft model: R44 
Aircraft registration: VH-HCA 
Serial number: 10072 
Type of operation: Aerial Work 
Sector: Helicopter 
Damage to aircraft: Destroyed 
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Last update 15 November 2016