On 9 December 2009, at about 1120 Eastern Daylight-saving Time, the pilot of a Bell Helicopter Company 206L-1 LongRanger, registered VH-MJO, was conducting a visual flight rules fire-fighting support flight in the area of Dorrigo, New South Wales with one passenger on board. Shortly after takeoff, the pilot encountered reduced visibility conditions due to low cloud. Subsequently, all visual reference with the horizon and the ground was lost. The pilot attempted to land, but the helicopter impacted the ground in an uncontrolled state and with significant vertical force. The passenger was fatally injured and the pilot was seriously injured. The helicopter was seriously damaged.
The investigation found that after the pilot established the hover, the helicopter entered the rapidly fluctuating cloud. The pilot lost visual reference and became spatially disoriented and the helicopter impacted the ground in an uncontrolled state. The at times rapidly-moving fog or low cloud in the vicinity of the helicopter landing area (HLA) increased the risk of visual operations encountering instrument meteorological conditions at the HLA.
Following the accident, a full review of the operational procedures affecting the operation was conducted jointly by the then Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water; the NSW Rural Fire Service; and other NSW fire‑fighting authorities. An action plan was implemented to make several safety enhancements to those operational procedures. In addition, the National Parks and Wildlife Service ceased operations at the Dorrigo helicopter landing site.