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What happened

On 3 October 2012 the pilots of two Robinson R22 helicopters, each with a passenger on board, landed in the vicinity of a narrow gorge about 130 km west of Halls Creek, Western Australia. With the others on the ground, one of the pilots lifted off in VH-LLF to have a look at the gorge from the air.

The pilot descended into the gorge and then during the ascent the helicopter tail contacted a rock overhang about 30 m above the gorge pool and separated, resulting in loss of control, collision with the surrounding rocks, and submersion. The pilot did not survive.

The pilot of the remaining R22 ferried the two passengers, in turn, out of the gorge area.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB found that the pilot of VH-LLF descended into a confined gorge through a relatively narrow opening without prior knowledge of the gorge characteristics. That created a situation where the pilot was required to climb the helicopter out of the gorge with marginal clearance and potential disorientation in fading light.

Subsequently, although the pilot of the remaining R22 was able to ferry the passengers out of the gorge area post-accident, it was carried out with higher risk than was absolutely necessary.

Safety message

As this occurrence demonstrates, helicopter pilots need to be mindful that some confined areas will allow access, but will present significant risks on the climb out.

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Update 12 November 2012 - Preliminary factual report release

On 3 October 2012, the ATSB commenced an investigation into an accident involving a Robinson R22 Beta helicopter, registered VH-LLF, which collided with terrain 130 km west of Halls Creek, Western Australia.

The ATSB has released its preliminary factual report  into the collision. The information contained in the report is derived from the initial investigation of the occurrence. Readers are cautioned that new evidence will become available as the investigation progresses that may alter the circumstances as depicted in the preliminary report. As such, no analysis or findings are included in the report.

In the late afternoon on 3 October 2012, the pilot of a Robinson R22 Beta collided with terrain in a gorge on the Gliddon River (near the Margaret River).

The tail of the helicopter collided with an overhanging rock formation and a section of the tail boom separated from the fuselage. The helicopter rolled to the left and descended out of view of witnesses. The helicopter was found submerged on its right side with substantial damage. The pilot was deceased.

The ATSB attended the accident site, but was unable to closely examine the submerged wreckage. From the surface it was evident that the cabin roof was crushed in, both main rotor blades had severed a short distance from the main rotor hub, and one of the fuel tanks had detached from the aircraft structure.

The investigation is continuing and will include analysis of the available information to identify safety factors.

It is anticipated that the investigation will be completed by April 2013.

Read the preliminary factual report

 

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Source: ATSB

 

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Response to inquest findings

The Kununurra District Coroner recently handed down findings  into a 2012 fatal Robinson R22 helicopter accident at a gorge located at Lousia Downs Station, Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia.

The Coroner accepted the conclusions of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau in relation to the accident

Accident circumstances

On 3 October 2012 the pilots of two Robinson R22 helicopters, each with a passenger on board, landed in the vicinity of a narrow gorge about 130 km west of Halls Creek, Western Australia. With the others on the ground, one of the pilots lifted off in VH-LLF to have a look at the gorge from the air.

The pilot descended into the gorge and then during the ascent the helicopter tail contacted a rock overhang about 30 m above the gorge pool and separated, resulting in loss of control, collision with the surrounding rocks, and submersion. The pilot did not survive.

The pilot of the remaining R22 ferried the two passengers, in turn, out of the gorge area.

ATSB findings

The ATSB found the following contributing safety factors:

  • The pilot descended into a confined gorge through a relatively narrow opening without prior knowledge of the gorge characteristics; and
  • While ascending out of the gorge the helicopter tail contacted a rock overhang and separated, resulting in loss of control, collision with the surrounding rocks, and submersion in the gorge pool. 

The following other safety factors were also identified:

  • After the accident, the other pilot ferried the passengers from the gorge without any search and rescue alerting being active. 
  • During the flight to transfer one of the passengers to a homestead, the helicopter was operated in darkness without the appropriate equipment or pilot qualifications.

Safety message

As this occurrence demonstrates, helicopter pilots need to be mindful that some confined areas will allow access, but will present significant risks on the climb out.

Inquests are separate to ATSB investigations

The Coroner formulated her findings and recommendations independently of the ATSB. The ATSB cannot speak for the Coroners findings. However, the ATSB supports the coronial process and in the interests of ensuring that safety information is made available to the broadest audience the ATSB is making this publication.

The Coroner's report can be obtained from the Coroner's Court of Western Australia. Contact details are available at: www.coronerscourt.wa.gov.au. Queries regarding the Coroner's findings should be directed to the Coroner's Court of Western Australia.

 

General details

Date: 03 Oct 2012 Investigation status: Completed 
Time: 1730 WST Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
Location   (show map):130 km west of Halls Creek Occurrence type:Collision with terrain 
State: WA Occurrence class: Operational 
Release date: 22 Mar 2013 Occurrence category: Accident 
Report status: Final Highest injury level: Fatal 
 

Aircraft details

Aircraft manufacturer: Robinson Helicopter Co 
Aircraft model: R22 
Aircraft registration: VH-LLF 
Serial number: 1468 
Type of operation: Private 
Damage to aircraft: Substantial 
 
 
 
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Last update 25 March 2014