On 9 June 2012, a Robinson R44 helicopter, registered VH-CYH, departed Thursday Island to Dauan Island, Queensland, on a charter passenger flight. During the flight, the alternator light illuminated on two separate occasions, each time it was reset.
When at Dauan Island, the pilot attempted to start the engine for the return ferry flight, without success. After consultation with the operator, external batteries were used to start the helicopter.
About 10 minutes after departing, the alternator light illuminated and was again reset. This happened again several times in quick succession before the pilot then isolated all non-essential electrical systems. The pilot elected to fly to Moa Island because he had passed the point of no return to Dauan Island.
About 10 minutes later, the engine governor failed, the pilot switched the governor off. As a precaution, the pilot descended the helicopter to 500 ft above the water.
Over the next 10 minutes, the pilot adjusted the throttle manually to manage the engine and rotor RPM which would stabilize for a few minutes and then indicate a reduction. This was coupled with a gradually increasing vibration and grinding noise. At about 300 ft above the water, the pilot deployed the emergency ‘pop-out’ floats. The pilot was concerned about the increase in engine noise and vibration and elected to descend and commence a hover taxi. Soon after, the throttle was not able to be adjusted further and he elected to ditch the helicopter.
The pilot contacted the helicopter operator, who initiated a search and rescue operation by contacting the Rescue and Coordination Centre Australia. At about 1845, a search and rescue helicopter arrived and transported the pilot to Horn Island. The pilot was uninjured.
The accident highlights the importance of wearing a life jacket equipped with flares and a PLB among other safety items; a nominated realistic SARTIME; a thorough knowledge of an aircraft’s systems; and the benefits of helicopter underwater escape training.