Aviation safety investigations & reports

Bell 214ST Helicopter VH-LAO, 100 km north-west of Troughton Island WA, 28 March 1988

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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The helicopter was on a 65-min flight from Troughton Island to the drilling vessel Energy Searcher. The flight departed Troughton Island at 0717 hours Western Standard Time with thirteen passengers and two crew on board. Approximately 30 min after takeoff, while cruising at 4,500 ft, a loud bang was heard accompanied by the onset of severe airframe vibration. The pilot immediately lowered the collective pitch control and reduced the helicopter's speed, while the co-pilot transmitted a distress message and instructed the passengers to fasten their seat belts. Although the vibration made reading of the instruments difficult, the pilot was able to determine that main rotor RPM was approaching 120%. The pilot increased the collective pitch in an attempt to control the main rotor RPM but this caused the vibration level to increase. He then lowered the collective pitch control, turned the helicopter into wind, and established an autorotative descent. The pilot observed that one main rotor blade was tracking irregularly. Passing 1,000 ft, the automatic inflation system for the flotation bags was armed. The helicopter contacted the water surface at a forward speed of 10-15 kts approximately parallel to the swell. The flotation bags immediately began to inflate. At the same time the main rotor blades struck the water, causing the fuselage to roll right until inverted. During the rollover, the left and right cabin windows were forced from their frames and the left side hinged door forced open. All passengers escaped from the cabin through these openings. The pilots exited through their respective doors, the co-pilot taking a portable emergency locator beacon. The short time interval between touchdown and the rollover prevented deployment of the life rafts. However, one raft was later released by a passenger. The survivors were located a short time after the ditching by a search aircraft and were later rescued by another helicopter and transferred to Troughton Island.
Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 2.48MB]
General details
Date: 28 March 1988   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 0747 EST    
Location: near Troughton Island    
State: Western Australia    
Release date: 20 March 1989   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Minor  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Bell Helicopter Co  
Aircraft model 214  
Aircraft registration VH-LAO  
Type of operation Charter  
Sector Helicopter  
Damage to aircraft Destroyed  
Departure point Troughton Island, WA  
Destination Rig Energy Searcher