Aviation safety investigations & reports

Bell 204B Helicopter VH-UTW at Barracouta Platform, Vic, 22 March 1968

Investigation number:
1968 Bell 204B VH-UTW
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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At approximately 0800 hours Eastern Standard Time on the morning of 22 March 1968 the Bell 204B helicopter, VH-UTW, owned and operated by Helicopter Utilities Pty. Ltd., commenced transporting a party of twentysix journalists, photographers and public relations personnel from West Sale Aerodrome in Victoria to Barracouta Platform. Three separate flights were required to transport the party which had assembled principally from Sydney, Melbourne and the Gippsland area of Victoria and was visiting the platform for inspection and photographic purposes. The last group arrived at the platform shortly after midday.

Barracouta Platform stands in approximately 150 feet of water and is positioned over a natural gas recovery drilling point at latitude 38 degrees 18 minutes south, longitude 147 degrees 11 minutes east. The platform is 36 miles east south-east of the West Sale Aerodrome and 13 miles off-shore. Barracouta Platform is jointly owned and controlled by Esso Exploration and Production Australia Inc., and Haematite Petroleum Pty. Ltd.

At approximately 1215 hours VH-UTW took off with a party of television earner amen aboard for a short local flight around the platform for photographic purposes. Approximately five minutes later an approach from the east to the Barracouta helipad was made for the purpose of landing. The helicopter made a normal approach which terminated in the hover position with the heels of the undercarriage pontoons approximately four feet above the helipad surface. From this position directional control was lost and, after making contact with the helipad on the pontoons, it slewed through an arc of approximately 160 degrees in a clockwise direction as viewed from above. The helicopter came to rest on the helipad with its tail fin slightly over-hanging the western edge of the pad (Refer to Appendix A). The undercarriage had distorted in such away as to allow the main rotor blades to make contact with the helipad surf ace during the rundown period and this induced a fragmentation of the extremities of these blades. During the period between the initial loss of directional control and the final stopping of the main rotor blades, serious injuries were caused to seven of the eleven members of the press party who were observing the landing of the helicopter from positions on the helipad and on it's access stairway. In respect of three persons the injuries proved to be fatal but none of the six occupants of the helicopter was injured.


At approximately 1220 hours E.S.T. on 22 March 1968 a Bell 204B helicopter, registered VH-UTW, crashed onto the helipad serving Barracouta Platform in Bass Strait.

The pilot made a normal approach for landing and, when the aircraft was hovering with approximately four feet of clearance above the centre of the helipad deck, a catastrophic tail fin structural failure suddenly occurred, and deprived the pilot of directional control. The helicopter descended quickly onto the helipad deck and slewed through approximately 160 degrees about a vertical axis. During and immediately subsequent to this circumstance the principal injuries to bystanders occurred as a result of them coming into contact with the rotors or with pieces separating from the main rotor as it came into contact with the helipad deck.

The cause of this accident was that, during the assembly of the tail rotor, the inadvertent omission or loss of a trunnion thrust washer was not detected.

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[Download  PDF: 7.56MB]
General details
Date: 22 March 1968   Investigation status: Completed  
Location: Bass Strait    
State: Victoria    
Release date: 20 August 1968   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Fatal  
Last update 07 March 2014