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: Queries regarding the Coroner's findings should be directed to the Coroner's Court of Western Australia.