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.
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.