On 22 March 2014, the pilot of a Robinson R22 helicopter, registered VH-YPS, was conducting aerial mustering on a property about 28 km east of Fitzroy Crossing aerodrome, Western Australia. The pilot had refuelled the helicopter from a jerry can and then secured the empty can in the passenger seat using the seatbelt.
At about 1530 Western Standard Time, the pilot manoeuvred the helicopter to the rear of a mob of cattle. From about 300 ft above ground level (AGL), the pilot conducted a balanced descending turn.
When at about 10 ft AGL, he applied right pedal and as he raised collective to climb away, a gust of wind blew through the left door opening and dislodged the jerry can from the seatbelt. The can became wedged between the seat and the cyclic control. The pilot applied forward cyclic and the nose of the helicopter lowered. As he then attempted to apply aft cyclic to raise the nose, he realised the cyclic was jammed. With the low nose attitude and minimal height above the ground, the pilot used collective in an attempt to flare the helicopter. The front of the landing skids collided with the ground and the helicopter rotated forwards. The main rotor blades chopped through the tail boom and the helicopter continued rotating forwards and bounced back up to about 50 ft AGL before coming to rest inverted.
The pilot reported that the impact dislodged the top of the front dash board and struck his helmet. He was uninjured and the helicopter sustained substantial damage.
This incident highlights the importance of ensuring all items are securely stowed. It also provides a timely reminder to pilots of the benefits of safety equipment such as a helmet.