The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has released a preliminary report from its on-going investigation into a fatal helicopter accident near Maitland last month.

On 6 October 2022, the pilot and sole occupant of a single-engine, five-seat Bell 206 JetRanger was conducting a ferry flight from northern New South Wales to Warnervale, on the Central Coast.

About two and a half hours into the flight, the helicopter collided with terrain, coming to rest on a muddy river flat east of Maitland. The pilot was fatally injured and the helicopter was destroyed.

ATSB investigators attended the scene and conducted an initial assessment of the aircraft in situ, before it was moved to higher ground for further examination due to rising water levels.

“Today’s preliminary report details factual information established in the investigation’s early evidence collection phase,” ATSB Director Transport Safety Stuart Macleod said.

“It has been prepared to provide timely information to the industry and public, and contains no analysis or findings, which will be detailed in the final report.”

The preliminary report notes recorded data indicated the pilot was following the inland visual flight rules (VFR) lane west of Williamtown Airport when, approaching Tocal, the aircraft started to climb, and conducted a right 180‑degree turn.

“Data showed that over the next 20 minutes, the helicopter conducted a number of turns, a climb up to 3,100 ft, and a descent to around 120 ft above ground level, and exited and re-entered the VFR lane on a number of occasions,” Mr Macleod said.

“It was then observed by six witnesses, who reported it heading towards the Hunter River, descending slightly, and possibly initiating a turn when it rolled markedly and descended rapidly, colliding with the riverbank.”

ATSB investigators were able to account for all major aircraft components at the accident site, and examination of the aircraft’s flight controls, engine and structure did not identify any pre-existing defects.

Bureau of Meteorology data for Maitland Airport 15 minutes before the accident reported 8 kt of wind with scattered cloud at 4,000 ft and 4,500 ft, and overcast cloud at 7,800 ft above the airport.

“To date, the ATSB has assessed the wreckage, interviewed witnesses and collected external data sources related to weather, air traffic communications, and flight tracking,” Mr Macleod said.

“Moving forward, the investigation will include further review and examination of aircraft maintenance documentation and operational records, recorded data,

weather information, air traffic communications, and the pilot’s medical records, qualifications, and experience.”

A final report will be released at the conclusion of the investigation.

“However, should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties so appropriate and timely safety action can be taken,” Mr Macleod concluded.

Read the preliminary report: AO-2022-048 Collision with terrain involving Bell Helicopter 206B, VH-PHP 6 km east north east of Maitland Airport, New South Wales on 6 October 2022

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