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On the afternoon of 2 November 2015, a Eurocopter AS350-BA helicopter, registered VH-SFX, departed from Mossman, Queensland (Qld) and was conducting aerial work over dense forest in the nearby Whyanbeel Valley. The aerial work required the helicopter to operate at a low altitude and airspeed to identify noxious plants in the region. On board the helicopter was the pilot, a navigator and two aerial spotters.

During the operation, the helicopter was reported to have yawed twice (within a short period of time) in an un-commanded and unusual way. The pilot, concerned with the un-commanded movements, climbed and increased the helicopter’s forward airspeed. Shortly after, the chip detector light[1] illuminated on the instrument panel. The pilot elected to immediately cease the operation, and find a suitable landing area in the direction of Mossman. As the helicopter climbed through approximately 200ft, the engine stopped producing power.

The pilot identified the best available area to land, given the height and airspeed, and commenced an autorotation landing. The identified area was uneven, overgrown with plants and surrounded by tall trees. During the landing sequence, the skids of the helicopter dug into the uneven terrain and were broken off. The helicopter came to rest about 10m after first touching down.

The passengers had received training in emergency procedures and adopted the brace position prior to landing. They received only minor injuries. In maintaining control of the helicopter, the pilot was unable to adopt a brace position. The pilot received significant back injuries. The passengers waited until the rotor blades had ceased turning before evacuating the helicopter and assisted in extracting the injured pilot to a safe distance.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) examined the helicopter and identified significant damage to the engine. The engine was removed from the helicopter and a controlled disassembly was performed at the engine manufacturer’s facilities in Australia. Examination of the power turbine module revealed that the turbine wheel had separated from its shaft, with corresponding damage and separation of the blades. Several components from the engine have been sent to the manufacturer’s facilities in France for analysis. The engine and its components remain the focus of the investigation.

The investigation is continuing.

Figure 1: VH-SFX, Eurocopter AS350-BA helicopter

Figure 1: VH-SFX, Eurocopter AS350-BA helicopter

Source: ATSB


The information contained in this web update is released in accordance with section 25 of the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 and is derived from the initial investigation of the occurrence. Readers are cautioned that new evidence will become available as the investigation progresses that will enhance the ATSB's understanding of the accident as outlined in this web update. As such, no analysis or findings are included in this update.



  1. A device that is used to gather chips of metal from engine or transmission oil as appropriate. Depending on the installation, it can be linked to an in-cockpit indicating light.
General details
Date: 02 November 2015 Investigation status: Active 
Time: 16:42 EST Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
Location   (show map):Whyanbeel Valley Occurrence type:Collision with terrain 
State: Queensland  
 Occurrence category: Accident 
Report status: Pending Highest injury level: Serious 
Expected completion: September 2017  
Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer: Airbus Helicopters 
Aircraft model: AS.350BA 
Aircraft registration: VH-SFX 
Serial number: 1529 
Type of operation: Aerial Work 
Sector: Helicopter 
Damage to aircraft: Substantial 
Departure point:Cairns, Qld
Destination:Port Douglas, Qld
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Last update 14 March 2017