Final Report


What happened

On 25 March 2016, Bell 206B JetRanger helicopter, registered VH-WHU, struck a powerline while spraying cane fields about 5 km south-west of Carmila, Queensland. During the accident sequence, the helicopter’s tail rotor and vertical stabiliser assembly separated from the helicopter. The helicopter collided with terrain and was destroyed by impact forces and a post‑impact fire. The pilot was fatally injured.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB found that the helicopter was equipped with upper and lower wirestrike protection system equipment and four-point safety harnesses. The pilot was wearing an aviation flying helmet. While not preventing fatal injuries on this occasion, these safety enhancements generally reduce risk and increase the possibility of surviving a collision.

The ATSB also found that the inherent difficulty in visually detecting powerlines was exacerbated in this case by the outer two supporting power poles being masked by trees. There was also a low-contrast background that included cane fields, rising terrain and a tree-lined creek. In combination, these features negated a number of visual cues normally associated by pilots with the location of powerlines. This increased the difficulty of the pilot seeing the wires, and reduced the time available to take action once the powerline was located.

Safety message

Aerial application is conducted at low level, where there is an elevated risk of collision with terrain, man-made structures and wildlife. Pilot training, experience, pre-flight preparation and planning and fatigue management are important means to reduce risk.

The Australian aviation industry has invested heavily in an effort to minimise the risk associated with low-level aerial application. This includes the:

  • the Aerial Application Association of Australia Ltd. (previously Aerial Agricultural Association of Australia Ltd.), which has written a number of manuals (available at, conducted training in aerial application, facilitated access to available wire databases and taken safety action to increase the high visibility marking of wires
  • operators, who develop and include risk mitigation strategies in their operations manuals
  • Civil Aviation Safety Authority, which issues associated regulations, publications (available at, conducts workshops and carries out operator surveillance aimed at addressing the risks associated with low-level aerial application operations
  • ATSB, which has investigated numerous aerial application accidents and issued public reports in an effort to enhance safety in those operations.

Despite those efforts and requirements, wirestrikes continue to occur in low-level aerial application operations. It is therefore prudent, when planning and/or conducting aerial application operations, for pilots and operators to learn from other occurrences and accidents, and continue to apply that knowledge to reduce risks to their operations.

Photograph VH-WHU
Photograph VH-WHU. Source: Heli-CentralSource: Heli-Central

The occurrence

Safety analysis

Sources and submissions