During the morning of 3 January 2012, the pilot of a Robinson Helicopter Company R22 helicopter, registered VH-FHR, was conducting low-level aerial work along the Dutton River, 45 km east-north-east of Richmond Aerodrome, Queensland. The pilot was the sole occupant. At about 1130 Eastern Standard Time, when at about 20 to 30 KIAS and 250 ft above ground level, the pilot felt a 'kick' to the helicopter and the machine suddenly yawed to the left. Shortly after, a second 'kick' and yaw occurred, followed by the sounding of the low rotor RPM warning horn. The pilot entered autorotation, and attempted to recover forward airspeed with the little height he had at the time.
The pilot was unable to arrest the helicopter's rate of descent before the machine impacted the sandy river bed heavily, and rolled onto its right side. A post-impact fire commenced immediately, but the pilot was able to egress with minor burns. The helicopter was seriously damaged on impact and subsequently destroyed by the post-impact fire.
The 'kicks' and yaw experienced may have been due to environmental effects such as the effect of the gusting and swirling winds and mechanical turbulence.
This accident highlights the need for helicopter pilots to be mindful of conducting operations with a combination of forward airspeed and altitude which may place the machine in the 'avoid' area of the respective height velocity diagram.
Helicopter pilots who regularly fly at low altitude may consider the benefits afforded by the wearing of helmets and additional personal protective clothing and equipment.