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What happened

On 12 May 2014, the pilot of a Cicaré CH-7B amateur-built helicopter, registered VH-SWQ, was involved in spotting operations for a cattle muster on a private station 43 km north-west of Barcaldine, Queensland. After communication with the helicopter was lost during the muster, a search party found the crashed helicopter inverted by a dry creek bed. The private pilot, who was the sole occupant, died in the accident and the helicopter was destroyed.

What the ATSB found

The wreckage and its distribution pattern were consistent with an in-flight break-up.

The ATSB found that the stabiliser assembly separated from the tail boom inflight and contacted the tail rotor blades. The resulting imbalance from the damaged tail rotor blades led to separation of the tail rotor gearbox assembly from the helicopter, and subsequent loss of control and collision with terrain.

The ATSB’s technical examination found that the stabiliser assembly failed due to cracking associated with metal fatigue.

What's been done as a result

On 6 March 2015, in consideration of the potential fleet implications of the failure mechanism of the stabiliser assembly on VH-SWQ, the ATSB sent an advisory letter to all Australian registered CH-7B owners alerting them to the circumstances of the accident. The letter highlighted the importance of maintaining and operating their helicopter in accordance with the manufacturer’s requirements. The letter also advised owners to discuss any serviceability concerns with the manufacturer before further flight. Owners were also reminded to seek advice from an appropriately licenced aircraft engineer and/or the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

In addition, registered owners were notified on 6 August 2015 of an accident involving another CH-7B, which occurred on 28 July 2015. This accident is also being investigated by the ATSB (investigation AO-2015-089) and has identified a second cracked stabiliser. The ATSB is working to establish the origin of the stabiliser failures.

Safety message

Helicopter pilots and operators should be aware of the potential dangers of abnormal vibration levels. Changes in vibration may indicate an impending failure of a component or structural part. While experience will assist a pilot to determine what vibration is normal, accurate assessment can only be made by qualified personnel using specialised equipment.

Various dynamic components need to be balanced within the manufacturer’s limits during maintenance to enable the service life to be achieved and ensure the safety of the helicopter and its occupants.

Ongoing safety requires aircraft owners and maintainers to operate and maintain the aircraft in accordance with relevant regulations, including those specific to experimental aircraft. While the regulations allow for an experimental aircraft builder to be granted approval to conduct ongoing maintenance, the builder must have sufficient engineering skill and knowledge.

 CH-7B helicopter example

CH-7B helicopter example

Source: Cicaré Helicopters SA, modified by ATSB CH-7B 

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The occurrence


Safety analysis


Safety issues and actions

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General details
Date: 02 May 2014 Investigation status: Completed 
Time: 1630 EST Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
Location   (show map):43 km NW of Barcaldine Airport Occurrence type:In-flight break-up 
State: Queensland Occurrence class: Operational 
Release date: 05 Feb 2016 Occurrence category: Accident 
Report status: Final Highest injury level: Fatal 
Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer: Amateur Built Aircraft 
Aircraft model: Cicare CH-7B 
Aircraft registration: VH-SWQ 
Serial number: 0011 
Type of operation: Aerial Work 
Sector: Helicopter 
Damage to aircraft: Destroyed 
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Last update 09 June 2016