Aviation safety investigations & reports

Wirestrike and collision with terrain involving Robinson R22, VH-KLY 75 km west-north-west of Hay, New South Wales on 26 May 2021

Investigation number:
AO-2021-020
Status: Completed
Investigation completed
Phase: Final report: Dissemination Read more information on this investigation phase

Final

Download Final report
[Download  PDF: 1.22MB]
 

What happened

On 26 May 2021, the pilot of a Robinson R22 Beta helicopter, registered VH-KLY and operated by Stock & Station Aviation, was conducting mustering operations on a property 75 km west‑north‑west of Hay, New South Wales. The pilot was the only person on board. As the helicopter was flown towards cattle yards, it struck a powerline and collided with terrain. The pilot was fatally injured.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB found that, as it was not originally planned for the pilot to muster cattle to the yard, they did not do an aerial inspection and the hazards at the yard were likely not considered. During a turn most likely associated with an approach to land, the helicopter contacted a single wire earth return line, which was very difficult to detect. Control was subsequently lost, and the helicopter collided with terrain.

The ATSB also found the emergency locator transmitter (ELT) did not activate as the transmitter was selected to OFF. As the accident was witnessed, this did not affect the response. 

Safety message

Mustering operations around yards and buildings are inherently dangerous due to low‑level hazards including powerlines. According to the ATSB’s Avoidable Accidents Low-level flying research report, about 63% of pilots involved in wirestrike accidents reported they were aware of the powerlines but had forgotten about them before they were struck.

As such, the Aerial Application Association of Australia has been working with landowners and energy suppliers to install markers on powerlines through their Powerline Safety Program. In addition, a number of power companies are making these markers available at reduced cost.

In addition, the ATSB Avoidable Accidents No. 2 Wirestrikes involving known wires: A manageable aerial agricultural hazard advises pilots that in order to manage the on-going risk of wirestrikes, if their plan changes, they should reassess the risks to the flight.

Operators are also reminded of the importance of regularly conducting a self-test of the emergency locator transmitter (ELT) system. Having a working ELT increases the likelihood that an aircraft and its occupants will be located quickly in the event of an accident.

Download Final report
[Download  PDF: 1.22MB]
 
 
 

The investigation

Summary

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is investigating a collision with terrain accident involving a Robinson R22 helicopter 70 km WNW of Hay, New South Wales, on 26 May 2021.

During aerial agricultural operations, the helicopter collided with terrain. The helicopter sustained substantial damage and the pilot, the sole occupant, was fatally injured.

As part of the investigation the ATSB will examine the wreckage, analyse any available recorded data, review pilot and maintenance records, and interview involved parties.

A final report will be released at the conclusion 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 safety action can be taken. 

Preliminary

This preliminary report details factual information established in the investigation’s early evidence collection phase, and has been prepared to provide timely information to the industry and public. Preliminary reports contain no analysis or findings, which will be detailed in the investigation’s final report. The information contained in this preliminary report is released in accordance with section 25 of the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003.

The occurrence

On 26 May 2021, the pilot of a Robinson R22 Beta helicopter, registered VH-KLY (KLY) and operated by Stock & Station Aviation, was conducting mustering operations on a property 75 km west‑north-west of Hay, New South Wales (Figure 1). The pilot was the only person on board.

Figure 1: Accident location

Accident location

Source: Google maps annotated by the ATSB

At about 1150 Eastern Standard Time,[1] the pilot was moving a small group of cattle along a fence line to yards, where they were to be loaded on to a truck and removed from the property. The pilot flew ahead of the cattle to open the gates to the yard, with witnesses observing the helicopter as it passed their house. The pilot landed and exited the helicopter, then opened the first gate at the entrance to the yards (Figure 2).

Figure 2: First landing site

First landing site

Source: ATSB

A short time later, a witness at the house heard the helicopter take-off and, very soon after, heard a loud bang. Suspecting that the helicopter had crashed, they drove to the yards and found the helicopter on its side. First aid was rendered to the pilot however, they sustained fatal injuries. The helicopter was substantially damaged.

Context

Flight data

Analysis of recorded flight data indicated KLY took off from the landing site at the first gate and flew in a southerly direction toward the yards at between 20–30 ft (6–9 m) above ground level (AGL) and up to 27 kt (Figure 3). The track then turned slightly towards a gate which was required to be opened to allow the cattle through. This gate is adjacent to the accident site.

Figure 3: KLY flight data

KLY flight data

Source: Google Earth, annotated by the ATSB

Wreckage information

All of the major aircraft components were accounted for at the site. Examination of the aircraft’s flight controls, engine and aircraft structure did not identify any pre‑existing defects. However, there was evidence of wire strike marks on the front of the helicopter’s left skid (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Wire strike marks on left skid

Wire strike marks on left skid

Source: ATSB

Powerline

A single wire earth return (SWER) line runs across the yard (Figure 3). This line runs from a power pole adjacent to the yards to a pole approximately 351 m away. The wire is attached to the power pole closest to the yards at 34 ft (10 m) AGL and the minimum height of the wire as it spans between power poles is 24 ft (7 m) AGL. The helicopter came to rest about 27 m from the wire.

Ongoing investigation

The investigation is continuing and will include examination of:

  • aircraft maintenance documentation and operational records
  • recorded data
  • weather information
  • wire visibility
  • accident survivability
  • pilot qualifications and experience.

Should any safety critical information be discovered at any time during the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify operators and regulators so appropriate and timely safety action can be taken.

A final report will be published at the conclusion of the investigation.

__________

  1. Eastern Standard Time (EST): Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) + 10 hours.
General details
Date: 26 May 2021   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1152 EST   Investigation level: Short - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): 75 km west-north-west of Hay, New South Wales   Investigation phase: Final report: Dissemination  
State: New South Wales   Occurrence type: Wirestrike  
Release date: 30 March 2022   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Fatal  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Robinson Helicopter Co  
Aircraft model R22 BETA  
Aircraft registration VH-KLY  
Serial number 4424  
Operator Stock and Station Aviation Pty Ltd  
Type of operation Aerial Work  
Sector Helicopter  
Damage to aircraft Substantial  
Departure point Boyong Station, New South Wales  
Destination Boyong Station, New South Wales  
Last update 29 March 2022