On 28 December 2014, at about 1312 Eastern Daylight-saving Time, the pilot of a Robinson R44 helicopter, registered VH-JKF (JKF), departed for a scenic flight from Essendon Airport, Victoria. The helicopter travelled as the lead helicopter ‘in-company’ with another helicopter and the pilot of JKF was responsible for making all radio calls on behalf of both helicopters.
At about 1315, the student pilot and instructor of a Cessna 172 aircraft, registered VH-EVR (EVR), taxied for a training flight to Point Cook. At about 1323, EVR was cleared to track direct to Point Cook and subsequently cleared for take-off from runway 17. The pilot of JKF heard the communications with EVR while he was briefing passengers for landing and he did not hear the runway direction in the instructions issued to EVR. He had observed the wind over the city coming from a northerly direction, and assumed EVR would be taking off from runway 35.
At about 1325, the controller instructed JKF and company to track towards the runway 17 threshold and to report sighting the Cessna in the take-off roll. The pilot of JKF read back the instruction, but inadvertently tracked towards the 35 threshold. After reporting the Cessna in sight, JKF was directed to pass behind it.
About 16 seconds later, both helicopters were asked to confirm they had the aircraft in sight and the instructor of EVR observed JKF in close proximity. The pilot of JKF then realised that he was tracking to the incorrect threshold and slowed the helicopter to pass about 75 m behind and 100 ft below EVR.
This incident serves as a reminder to keep a good lookout at all times, including in Class C airspace.