On 23 May 2014, at about 0855 Eastern Standard Time, a Bell 412 helicopter, registered VH-ESD, conducted a winching operation about 72 km WNW of Townsville, Queensland. The crew consisted of a pilot, an air crew officer (ACO), a rescue crew officer (RCO), a paramedic and a doctor.
The pilot established the helicopter in a hover about 100 ft above the ground facing down the slope. The ACO directed the pilot to manoeuvre the helicopter to perform the operation and remain clear of all obstacles. The doctor and RCO were winched down to the site together, and subsequently the paramedic was lowered. The pilot conducted an orbit before returning to winch the stretcher and rescue equipment down.
The pilot and ACO then departed and after about 15 minutes, returned to commence the winch recovery. The ACO directed the pilot to manoeuvre the helicopter and winched up the doctor and the stretcher. The ACO handed the visual reference over to the pilot, while his attention was focused on securing the stretcher inside the cabin.
About 1 minute later, the ACO returned to the door and observed that the helicopter had drifted back and left and he immediately directed the pilot to manoeuvre up and to the right, however the tail rotor collided with some foliage. The ACO advised the pilot. The pilot had not detected any strike, there were no abnormal indications or vibrations and the helicopter was operating normally.
The RCO and paramedic were then winched into the helicopter and the ACO returned to the front seat. After landing, the pilot observed some ripples on the tail rotor blades.
This incident highlights to helicopter pilots the importance maintaining a good reference point when operating in confined areas.