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.