Revised final released 18 February 2014
On 8 September 2011, a chartered Eurocopter AS350BA registered VH-RDU, with a pilot and two passengers on board, collided with terrain on approach to a helicopter landing site (HLS). The HLS was located on a peak of Double Mountain South in the Shoalwater Bay military training area, 93 km north of Rockhampton Airport, Queensland. The pilot and front seat passenger were fatally injured and the rear seat passenger received serious injuries. The helicopter was substantially damaged and there was no fire.
What the ATSB found
The ATSB found that the pilot lost control of the helicopter at low speed or while hovering. The reason for that loss of control could not be positively established, although it is most likely to have resulted from environmental and operational factors.
The investigation was unable to determine whether authorisation of pilot tasking in this case had complied with the operator’s procedures. The assignment of the pilot to the task did not directly contribute to the accident. However, had a formalised and documented risk assessment of the task been prepared and considered as part of the authorisation process, as prescribed by the operator’s Safety Management System, it is likely there would have been a greater awareness of the suitability or otherwise of the pilot for the tasking. The physical characteristics of the HLS were not a contributing factor to the accident.
However, the HLS was found to be potentially hazardous for a pilot who was unfamiliar with its characteristics and not current with the difficulties likely to be encountered with pinnacle and confined helicopter landing sites.
This accident highlights the need for helicopter operators to be aware of the potential safety risks associated with tasking pilots, especially those with little experience on the helicopter type, into an operating environment for which their competency has not been established or regularly checked. While pinnacle and confined area operations are part of the normal competencies of a licenced helicopter pilot, they are degradable skills that should be confirmed current prior to the assignment of flights that may involve such locations.