Aviation safety investigations & reports

Helicopter winching accident involving an Agusta Westland AW139 helicopter, VH-SYZ, 16km WSW of Wollongong Airport, NSW, 24 December 2011

Investigation number:
AO-2011-166
Status: Completed
Investigation completed

Inquest

ATSB Response to Findings

On 16 September 2014, NSW Deputy State Coroner Forbes released findings into the fatal helicopter winching accident involving an Agusta Westland AW139 Helicopter (VH-SYZ) 16km WSW of Wollongong airport which occurred on 24 December 2011.  The accident was the subject of ATSB Investigation AO-2011-166.

The ATSB summary explains that a paramedic died during the retrieval operation for an injured person at the base of waterfall.  The paramedic and the injured person swung into rocks after coming off a ledge during the retrieval.

With respect to findings of fact, the Coroner was unable to make a finding as to how the paramedic and injured person came off the ledge, with some uncertainty as to the evidence at the inquest.  For the reasons set out in its report, the ATSB found that the paramedic and injured person were accidentally pulled from the ledge in low light conditions. 

There were no significant differences in views between the findings of the Coroner and the findings of the ATSB with respect to the manner in which safety could be improved.  This included the ATSB’s key safety message that dangers associated with modifying established procedures in order to complete a difficult, and potentially not previously experienced, rescue task. Specifically, the use of procedures that are neither documented nor trained for by crews makes it difficult to identify hazards and manage the related risks.

The Coroner canvassed additional recommendations relating to the coordination and planning of the rescue which can be reviewed in the Coroner’s findings.

ATSB investigations and coronial investigations

Coronial investigations are separate to ATSB investigations. In this matter the respective authorities are largely in accord as to the factors that contributed to the development of the accident involving VH-SYZ.

The ATSB's report can be downloaded by clicking on the link: Final Report.

The Coroner’s findings can be downloaded from the NSW Coroner’s Court website.

Summary

Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 4.45MB]
 

What happened

On 24 December 2011 an Agusta Westland AW139 helicopter departed Bankstown Airport in response to an emergency personal locator beacon in the Budderoo National Park, about 16 km west-south-west of Wollongong Airport, New South Wales. On board the helicopter were a pilot, an air crewman, two paramedics and a doctor.

On locating the emergency beacon, the crew identified a seriously injured person on a rock ledge near the bottom of a waterfall. They assessed that it would not be possible to winch emergency personnel directly to the patient. In response, the crew landed at a nearby clear area and devised a plan to access and retrieve the patient. During the retrieval, the patient and one of the paramedics hit rocks at the base of the waterfall. The paramedic died from the impact. The patient was subsequently transported to hospital for treatment.

What the ATSB found

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) identified that, due to reduced light, the paramedic and patient were accidentally pulled from the rock ledge as the helicopter was manoeuvred in preparation to lift them out using its winch.

The ATSB also identified several safety issues relating to training and use of the helicopter’s lighting and radios. A number of organisational issues that could adversely influence the way crews act in similar circumstances were also identified.

What has been done as a result

In response to this accident, the Ambulance Service of New South Wales and the helicopter operator took safety action in respect of the operating scope applied to retrieval operations and procedures used by helicopter emergency crews. In addition, paramedics, in their role as ambulance rescue crewmen, are now required to conduct annual night winching currency training. Finally, proactive safety action was taken by these parties in the areas of general crew training and operational risk assessment.

Safety message

This accident highlights the dangers associated with modifying established procedures in order to complete a difficult, and potentially not previously experienced, rescue task. Specifically, the use of procedures that are neither documented nor trained for by crews makes it difficult to identify hazards and manage the related risks.

Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 4.45MB]
 
 
 

Photos

To download, click the link, then right-click and select Save As.

Copyright in material obtained from other agencies, private individuals or organisations, belongs to those agencies, individuals or organisations and should be credited accordingly.

General details
Date: 24 December 2011   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 2039 ESuT    
Location   (show map): 16 km WSW of Wollongong Airport   Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation  
State: New South Wales   Occurrence type: Cabin injuries  
Release date: 16 May 2013   Occurrence class: Operational  
Report status: Final   Occurrence category: Accident  
  Highest injury level: Fatal  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Agusta, S.p.A, Construzioni Aeronautiche  
Aircraft model AW139  
Aircraft registration VH-SYZ  
Serial number 31155  
Type of operation Aerial Work  
Damage to aircraft Nil  
Departure point Bankstown Airport, NSW  
Destination Sydney, NSW  
Last update 14 November 2018