Aviation safety investigations & reports

Controlled flight into terrain involving Agusta A109, VH-XPB, Ellerston, New South Wales, 10 June 2016

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed

Final Report

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On 10 June 2016, at about 1738 Eastern Standard Time, an Agusta S.P.A A109S helicopter, registered VH-XPB, departed from Sydney Airport for a private flight to Ellerston, New South Wales (NSW), with a pilot and three passengers on board.

At about 1838, the helicopter arrived overhead the GPS position for the helicopter landing site (HLS). The pilot sighted a red beacon, but as they had expected to see the illuminated hangar and HLS, became unsure of the location of the HLS. The pilot then elected to descend and track towards the homestead to verify their exact location.

At about 1841, the helicopter descended to 2,286 ft in the vicinity of the Ellerston buildings which the pilot reported were all well illuminated and visible. The pilot assessed that the red light must be on the hangar next to the HLS and commenced a right turn to position for an approach from 2 NM to the north-east of the HLS.

At about 1842, as the aircraft was positioning for the approach, the pilot received a ‘landing gear’ warning from the radio altimeter, indicating that the helicopter was less than 200 ft above ground level. The pilot immediately raised full collective and commenced a climb to 4,000 ft before returning to land at the HLS.

After landing, the passengers disembarked and the pilot then conducted a ferry flight to Camden Airport, NSW. After arriving in Camden, damage to the helicopter was detected. It was apparent that the helicopter had struck a tree branch, causing damage to the right side landing lights, horizontal stabiliser, vertical fin and rotating beacon. It was unclear exactly when the helicopter had struck a tree.

The ATSB publication Avoidable Accidents No. 7 - Visual flight at night accidents: What you can't see can still hurt you explains how suitable strategies can significantly reduce the risks of flying visually at night.


Aviation Short Investigations Bulletin- Issue 52


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General details
Date: 10 June 2016   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 19:45 EST   Investigation level: Short - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Ellerston (ALA)    
State: New South Wales   Occurrence type: CFIT  
Release date: 28 September 2016   Occurrence category: Serious Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Agusta, S.p.A, Construzioni Aeronautiche  
Aircraft model A109S  
Aircraft registration VH-XPB  
Serial number 22025  
Type of operation Business  
Sector Helicopter  
Damage to aircraft Minor  
Departure point Sydney, NSW  
Destination Ellerston, NSW  
Last update 14 November 2018