Aviation safety investigations & reports

Collision with terrain involving AS350BA Squirrel helicopter, VH-BAA, at Hobart Airport, Tasmania, on 7 November 2017

Investigation number:
AO-2017-109
Status: Active
Investigation in progress

Update

Update published 6 November 2018

The investigation is continuing. Materials and information have been gathered from various sources and the evidence collection phase is nearing completion.

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

Should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties so appropriate action can be taken.

Preliminary report

Preliminary report

Published: 18 December 2017

At about 1635 Eastern Daylight‑saving Time[1] on 7 November 2017, a Eurocopter AS350BA (AS350) helicopter, registered VH-BAA, departed Hobart Airport, Tasmania for a local training area to the northeast. On board were a pilot and instructor and the flight was the third training flight of an AS350 helicopter-type endorsement for the pilot.

The endorsement training was conducted over a two-day period. It included ground school training, and three flights that formed the practical component of the training syllabus. One instructor had assessed the first two flights but, since the third focussed on emergency procedure training, the occurrence instructor elected to fly with the pilot.

The pilot held a Commercial Pilot (Helicopter) Licence and a valid Class 1 Aviation Medical Certificate. The pilot had experience flying other turbine helicopter types, on various types of operations. The pilot’s existing low-level and sling approvals, which were reportedly held on a foreign licence, were also to be assessed during the AS350 type endorsement.

Following arrival in the training area, the pilot’s general helicopter handling and low-level flight were assessed. At about 1715, the pilots reported to air traffic control that operations in the training area were complete and requested a clearance back into the Hobart Airport control zone, to conduct practice emergencies. The approach to the airport reportedly involved conducting a simulated hydraulic system failure to the helicopter training area X-Ray (Figure 1).

Training Area X-Ray was located adjacent to and west of the main runway and was familiar to the pilot, as this area was used in the previous day’s training.

Figure 1: Approximate flight path of the helicopter (not to scale), showing the approach to the X-Ray training area, where the helicopter slowed before making an abrupt left turn and impacting terrain.

Figure 1: Approximate flight path of the helicopter (not to scale), showing the approach to the X-Ray training area, where the helicopter slowed before making an abrupt left turn and impacting terrain.

Source: Airservices Australia, modified by ATSB

The instructor reportedly announced the simulated failure to the pilot just prior to commencing the approach. The pilot responded to the simulated failure by stabilising the helicopter and reducing the airspeed to about 60 kt, in accordance with the manufacturer’s hydraulic failure procedure detailed in the aircraft’s flight manual.

The flight manual emphasised that, without hydraulic assistance, the flight controls exhibited force feedback requiring the pilot to exert additional force on the controls to maintain 60 kt in level flight. The manual also stated that, after transitioning to the recommended safety speed range, the second phase of the hydraulic failure procedure was to transition to slow run‑on landing[2] (at around 10 kt) via a flat final approach in to the wind. The pilot reported that, as the helicopter decelerated and descended towards the landing area, they noted the additional control forces required.

A video camera installed at the airport recorded footage of the helicopter’s final approach. As the helicopter descended toward training area X-Ray, it initially appeared to be controlled and in a flatter than normal approach profile. The helicopter then appeared to slow into a high hover about 30 ft above the ground. Seconds later, it commenced an abrupt nose-down turn to the left and impacted the ground.

The training procedure section of the helicopter flight manual cautioned pilots to:

…not attempt to carry out hover flight or any low speed manoeuvre without hydraulic pressure assistance. The intensity and direction of the control feedback forces will change rapidly. This will result in excessive pilot workload, poor aircraft control, and possible loss of control.

The impact forces caused significant damage to the cockpit area, particularly the left pilot side (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Damage to the helicopter showing significant impact damage to the cockpit area and left landing skid tip, consistent with a left nose-down attitude on impact.

Figure 2: Damage to the helicopter showing significant impact damage to the cockpit area and left landing skid tip, consistent with a left nose-down attitude on impact.
Source: ATSB

Seated on the left side, the instructor sustained fatal injuries, while the pilot seated on the right was seriously injured.

The investigation is continuing, and will analyse the evidence obtained during the on-site investigation phase. Additional work will include a review of the:

  • conduct of training operations
  • helicopter systems
  • any environmental influences that may have affected the operation of the helicopter at the time of the accident.

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The information contained in this web update is released in accordance with section 25 of the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 and is derived from the initial investigation of the occurrence. Readers are cautioned that new evidence will become available as the investigation progresses that will enhance the ATSB's understanding of the accident as outlined in this web update. As such, no analysis or findings are included in this update.

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  1. Eastern Daylightsaving Time was Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) + 11 hours.
  2. A landing conducted without establishing the helicopter in a hover.

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General details
Date: 07 November 2017   Investigation status: Active  
Time: 17:20 ESuT   Investigation phase: Evidence collection  
Location   (show map): Hobart Airport   Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation  
State: Tasmania   Occurrence type: Collision with terrain  
Release date: 18 December 2017   Occurrence class: Operational  
Report status: Preliminary   Occurrence category: Accident  
Expected completion: 2nd Quarter 2019   Highest injury level: Fatal  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Aerospatiale Industries  
Aircraft model AS.350BA  
Aircraft registration VH-BAA  
Serial number 2015  
Operator Rotorlift  
Damage to aircraft Destroyed  
Departure point Hobart, Tasmania  
Destination Hobart, Tasmania  
Last update 14 November 2018