The pilot of a Bell 206L-4 LongRanger, who died in a bad weather flight, first landed before taking off again.
ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell said the pilot initially made the right decision but pushed for flying in a “dangerous environment” “for reasons we will never fully understand”.
The incident took place in Kosciuszko National Park on April 3 and killed both occupants of the helicopter.
“It is very likely that these cloud and visibility conditions caused the pilot to lose visual reference and likely become spatially disoriented,” Mitchell said. “Tragically, this resulted in a loss of control of the helicopter and a non-survivable collision with terrain.”
The latest ATSB report revealed how one of seven helicopters participating in a flight tour, a Bell 206L-4 LongRanger, registered VH-PRW, with one pilot and one passenger on board, flew under visual flight rules (VFR) from a Private plane departed from Majura, near Canberra, for Mangalore, Victoria with a scheduled refueling stop at Tumut.
The weather forecast indicated low cloud, rain and associated reduced visibility on the planned route and two of the helicopters were diverted to Wagga Wagga due to the weather while four others landed near Wee Jasper in northwest Canberra.
The pilot of VH-PRW chose to carry on until encountering inclement weather conditions, landing just before noon in open terrain along the Long Plain Road in the Brindabella region west of Canberra and south of Wee Jasper, according to the investigation report.
About three hours later, at 14:53 local time, the helicopter left the stopover at low altitude under an overcast sky with low clouds and light rain.
At approximately 15:25, recorded data showed that the helicopter began a rapid climb and shortly thereafter entered a steep left turn that continued until it impacted terrain at an altitude of 4,501 feet.
A search was launched the next day, with the scene of the accident being located later that evening. The helicopter was destroyed and both occupants were fatally injured.
The pilot held a private pilot license (helicopter) and did not have an instrument rating and the helicopter was not instrument certified.
“The pilot initially made the right decision and landed the helicopter,” Mitchell said.
“However, you are only as safe as your last decision, and the pilot’s decision to take off again and continue – for reasons we will never fully understand – placed the helicopter in a dangerous environment with strong and misleading sensations of orientation and no visual cues.” .”
The ATSB said the investigation is the second this month into an accident in which a VFR pilot likely encountered poor visibility conditions before becoming spatially disoriented, resulting in a loss of control of his aircraft.
The ATSB is also currently investigating other fatal accidents that take weather conditions into account, including the collision with an Airbus Helicopter EC130 T3 terrain near Mount Disappointment, Victoria on March 31, 2022, which killed a pilot and four passengers .
In 2018, following the release of the final report of another fatal VFR helicopter accident in IMC conditions, the ATSB, in partnership with CASA and the Australian Helicopter Industry Association, launched the Don’t Push it, LAND IT – when it’s not right in flight”. ‘ Safety campaign encouraging helicopter pilots to make a precautionary landing instead of putting themselves in unusual situations.
“Don’t go ahead,” Mitchell told the VFR pilots.
“Advancement in cloud and poor visibility, unless you have the appropriate rating and experience, poses a significant risk of severe spatial disorientation and can affect any pilot, regardless of experience level.”