On 19 January 2014, the pilot of a Eurocopter AS350B3, registered VH-VTX, departed Hobart, Tasmania for Camden, New South Wales, with a planned refuel stop at a Helicopter Landing Site (HLS) near Orbost, Victoria. The flight was planned under the visual flight rules (VFR) and the pilot was the only person on board.
The flight proceeded past Flinders Island then in a northerly direction over Bass Strait towards the HLS near Orbost. While over Bass Strait, however, the pilot encountered deteriorating weather including patches of low cloud and areas of reduced visibility. After unsuccessfully attempting to manoeuvre around the weather, the pilot decided to divert back to Flinders Island. Soon after turning in a southerly direction and noting an increase in wind strength from the south, the pilot became concerned that insufficient fuel was available to safely reach Flinders Island. The pilot then elected to make a precautionary landing on a nearby offshore resource platform, and landed on the platform with a remaining endurance of about 55 minutes.
In response to this incident, the operator reported that company pilots were reminded of flight planning weather considerations and that specific instructions dealing with Bass Strait crossings were being considered. The incident serves as a reminder of the need for careful planning when intending to proceed into an area where poor weather is forecast, and the importance of timely and conservative decision making when poor weather is encountered.
Importantly, irrespective of how the pilot ended up in a position where landing on an offshore resource platform seemed the only option, the pilot made a very sound decision not to continue flight into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). Numerous accidents have resulted when flights conducted under the VFR encounter IMC.