Sunday 27th May, 2018

Pilot-transfer helicopter tragedy prompts safety advisory

The helicopter wreckage being lifted onto the dock. Photo: ATSB
The helicopter wreckage being lifted onto the dock. Photo: ATSB

THE Australian Transport Safety Bureau has released a safety advisory and a preliminary report on the fatal helicopter accident that occurred in March when a marine-pilot transfer helicopter ditched into the water off Port Hedland in March.

The ATSB revealed that the pilot who died in the accident hadn’t undertaken helicopter underwater escape training (HUET) for nine years, while the operator normally required company pilots to complete a HUET course every three years.

ATSB Executive Director, Transport Safety, Mr Nat Nagy said that frequent under water escape training is an important factor in increasing the survivability of an in-water accident.

“In light of our initial investigation, the ATSB has contacted all helicopter operators that are involved in overwater operations to deliver a safety advisory notice,” Mr Nagy said.

“The ATSB strongly recommends that aircrew and regular passengers on these sorts of operations receive training in under water escape to increase survivability in the event of a ditching such as this one.”

On 14 March at about 2330 AWST a Eurocopter EC135 helicopter, registered VH-ZGA, took off from Port Hedland Heliport to pick up a marine pilot on the bulk carrier MV Squireship.

According to the ATSB’s preliminary report on the incident, the helicopter was being flown by an aviator who had recently been employed by the operator, Heli-Aust Whitsundays. Supervising the flight was a company training and checking pilot.

At about 2348, the helicopter was flying near the bulk carrier when it descended and entered the water. The training and checking pilot escaped from the helicopter and was rescued while the other pilot was located on 17 March inside the helicopter wreckage on the sea floor.

The training and checking pilot had last completed a HUET in 2015, while the other pilot had last completed a HUET in 2009.

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