Previous helicopter crash.
Previous helicopter crash.

'Pilot saved lives' in 2017 crash: findings

JUST a day before the tragic Whitsunday Air Services helicopter crash which claimed the lives of two American tourists on Hardy Reef, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau released findings into another Whitsunday Air Services helicopter crash on November 8.

The ATSB found the pilot's actions last year ultimately led to the positive outcome after about 40 minutes into the return flight to Hamilton Island, the pilot of the Robinson R44 helicopter was forced to enact emergency procedures after partial engine failure.

After unsuccessful attempts to increase power, the pilot elected to conduct an autorotation on the water.

The pilot manually deployed the emergency floatation system and performed a successful ditching about 49km from the island.

The three passengers and the pilot, who were uninjured, remained in the helicopter were rescued by a crew of a local vessel about an hour later.

The helicopter later sank and was unable to be recovered.

The ATSB report highlights that the combination of the emergency floatation system, the use and availability of life jackets and the pilot's post-landing actions resulted in a positive outcome with no injuries to those on board.

"The pilot landed the helicopter on the water, with the emergency floats deployed, shut down the engine, and applied the rotor brake. The pilot then activated the emergency locator transmitter and instructed passengers to prepare to inflate their life jackets and to prepare to exit the helicopter if necessary.”

In additional comments the ATSB said the pilot reported refuelling the helicopter prior to the flight and conducting a check for contaminants, none of which was found.

"After the helicopter had landed on the water, the fuel gauges indicated that the tanks were half full.

"A review of the meteorological conditions around the time of the accident indicated they were conducive to serious carburettor icing conditions with descent power selected.”

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority noted the partial power loss described in this accident may be consistent with a magneto/governor failure, which has reported to have occurred on other R44 helicopters.

A maintenance log book entry around two weeks prior to the accident noted that the helicopter had intermittent tachometer/governor fluctuations- the right magneto points were found to be out-of-tolerance and adjusted.

A ground run to test the adjusted magneto was completed satisfactorily.

Two similar occurrences in the ATSB's database were noted in January of 2011.

On 3 January 2011, a Robinson R44 helicopter, departed Cairns Airport for a 30 minute charter flight and suffered engine failure 25 minutes in which caused the chopper to crash into the ocean and pilots.

Passengers and the pilot escaped and inflated their life jackets; a post-occurrence engine strip and examination found no fault that would give reason for the engine to fail in flight.

On 26 January 2011, a Robinson R44 helicopter carrying a pilot and three passengers departed the Knuckle Reef helipad for a 20 minute charter flight.

While returning to the helipad 15 minutes later, at about 950 ft above sea level, the helicopter experienced engine problems and the pilot inflated the emergency floatation system, commenced an autorotation and landed on the sea.

Following the safe recovery of the occupants, the helicopter was unable to be recovered.