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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  
Location   (show map):Ellerston (ALA) Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
State: New South Wales Occurrence type: CFIT 
Release date: 28 September 2016 Occurrence class: Operational 
Report status: Final Occurrence category: Serious Incident 
 Highest injury level: None 
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
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Last update 14 November 2018