Preliminary report released 9 March 2012
At about 1555 Eastern Daylight-saving Time on 4 February 2012, a Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter, registered VH-COK, lifted off from Jaspers Brush Aerodrome, New South Wales for an aerial filming task at Jervis Bay. On board were the pilot and a camera operator.
Soon after lifting off, the pilot's door opened. The helicopter abruptly pitched nose-up and the tailskid struck the ground. The helicopter then abruptly pitched forward and rolled to the right before the main rotor blades struck the ground. A fuel-fed fire started in the vicinity of the fuel tanks and lower mast area. The fuselage then hit the ground. Both occupants were fatally injured and the helicopter was destroyed.
On 20 December 2010, the manufacturer issued R44 Service Bulletin 78 (SB 78) requiring that R44 helicopters with all-aluminium fuel tanks be retrofitted with bladder-type fuel tanks as soon as practical, but no later than 31 December 2014. At the time of the accident, about 90% of the helicopters originally fitted with all-aluminium fuel tanks, including VH-COK, had not been retrofitted. On 21 February 2012, the manufacturer issued SB 78A that revised the date of compliance to 31 December 2013.
In addition, the manufacturer released SB 82 in respect of the replacement of existing R44 rotor brake switches. The aim of that bulletin was to reduce the chance of the rotor brake switch as a possible ignition source in the event of a fuel leak.
Although the circumstances of this accident are still under investigation, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has, in the interest of transport safety, issued a Safety Advisory Notice suggesting that operators and owners of R44 helicopters fitted with all-aluminium fuel tanks actively consider replacing those tanks with bladder-type fuel tanks, as detailed in SB 78A as soon as possible. The existence and content of SB 82 is also highlighted.