On 13 May 2014, the pilot of a Robinson R22 helicopter, registered VH-HEP, was conducting aerial mustering operations on a property about 40 km north-east of Hughenden, Queensland.
As the pilot was mustering a herd of cattle, a number of cattle retreated to a protected area beneath trees. The pilot descended in what appeared to be a clear area adjacent to the trees in an attempt to keep the cattle moving, but as the aircraft descended the main rotor blade struck a dead tree.
The pilot was immediately aware of the blade strike, and could feel vibration through the helicopter cyclic control. Concerned about the extent of damage to the helicopter and possible loss of control, the pilot elected to make a controlled descent to the ground immediately beneath. A fire ignited in the grass beneath the engine behind the cockpit area after the helicopter settled on the ground. The pilot was able to retreat to a safe area and was uninjured, but the fire grew rapidly and destroyed the helicopter.
This incident highlights the importance of continuous awareness of obstacles during aerial mustering operations, particularly when manoeuvring in relatively confined areas. Although the pilot had little choice on this occasion, this incident serves as a reminder of the fire hazard associated with landing in long grass.