Aviation safety investigations & reports

Pilot incapacitation while operating a Robinson R44 Helicopter, VH-HCA

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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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.

Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 2.71MB]
Alternate: [Download  DOC: 7.6MB]


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General details
Date: 03 September 2011   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1057 WST   Investigation level: Systemic - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): 180 km SSW Newman    
State: Western Australia   Occurrence type: Flight crew incapacitation  
Release date: 24 January 2013   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Fatal  

Aircraft details

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  
Last update 03 April 2020