A helicopter’s collision with rooftops in Melbourne’s south-east demonstrates the challenges pilots face managing engine power loss at low level, an Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation report explains.
On the afternoon of 30 November 2022, a Hughes 269C three-seat light helicopter collided with the roofs of two houses near Moorabbin Airport, resulting in serious injuries to the solo student pilot, and substantial damage to the helicopter.
The pilot had been returning to Moorabbin after their second solo navigation training flight, when their approach became unstable, and they commenced a go-around.
“As the helicopter climbed to about 650 ft above ground level, the engine lost power,” ATSB Director Transport Safety Stuart Macleod said.
“While the pilot identified a reduction in performance at this time, they did not immediately recognise the engine had lost power.”
The report notes that while the pilot was troubleshooting the reduction in engine performance, the helicopter passed two suitable sites for a forced landing.
“When the pilot recognised a forced landing was required, they then did not identify a nearby football oval as the closest suitable area, possibly due to it being obscured by the airframe or instrument panel,” Mr Macleod said.
“Instead, they identified a school ground, and attempted a landing there, but collided with rooftops short of this intended location as the helicopter had insufficient height.”
The accident highlights the challenges pilots face when confronted with a loss of engine power at low level, and with few suitable landing areas available.
“Pilots can best mitigate the effects of a power loss by forward planning, which reduces your mental workload under stress,” Mr Macleod said.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has provided guidance on this topic, with its Guidelines for helicopters – suitable places to take off and land circular. This recommends that before take-off, pilots make themselves aware of suitable forced landing areas along their planned flight path, from the lift-off point to a safe manoeuvring height.
“The engine power loss occurred at low height over a densely populated area presenting a challenging scenario for the inexperienced student pilot,” Mr Macleod noted.
“While in this case, the selected landing location was unable to be reached, importantly, the pilot maintained control of the helicopter to maximise survivability.”