Chop­per crash in­ves­ti­ga­tion

■ Aus­tralian Trans­port Safety Bureau says pi­lot didn’t have ac­cess to maps

Mansfield Courier - - Front Page - By JAR­RAH LOH

LAST week the Aus­tralian Trans­port Safety Bureau (ATSB) pre­sented its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the he­li­copter ac­ci­dent in Piries in July, the sec­ond he­li­copter crash in the area just this year.

The re­port found that the pi­lot com­pleted all prepa­ra­tions pos­si­ble be­fore the flight and that sim­i­lar in­ci­dents had hap­pened nearby in the past.

On July 6, po­lice and emer­gency ser­vices at­tended a call to Mans­field-Woods Point Road, Piries, on Satur­day af­ter­noon, af­ter a he­li­copter crashed on a pri­vate prop­erty just af­ter 3pm.

A Robin­son R44 he­li­copter, along with a pi­lot and pas­sen­ger, struck a pow­er­line be­fore col­lid­ing with the ground on a pri­vate flight from a prop­erty near Mans­field.

A male and female in their 40s were on board and treated at the scene be­fore be­ing air­lifted to hos­pi­tal.

The female re­ceived se­ri­ous in­juries while the male re­ceived mi­nor in­juries.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the in­ci­dent was then im­me­di­ately en­acted.

The new re­port high­lights a lack of elec­tric­ity net­work maps avail­able for pi­lots, say­ing that be­fore the flight, the pi­lot had in­deed sought and ob­tained some in­for­ma­tion about haz­ards, in­clud­ing pow­er­lines, from the prop­erty owner.

How­ever, the owner was not aware of a dis­tri­bu­tion pow­er­line strung across the nearby val­ley with a span of 560 me­tres, and he could not see the wires from his prop­erty.

It was also dis­cov­ered that this was not the first time this par­tic­u­lar power line had been hit by air­craft.

The wires did not have air­craft mark­ers, though the Aus­tralian Stan­dard (AS 3891) does not re­quire mark­ing.

Un­like some other states, read­ily us­able Vic­to­rian elec­tric­ity net­work maps were not avail­able to as­sist the pi­lot’s plan­ning.

As a re­sult, it is be­lieved the pi­lot’s pre-flight plan­ning did not iden­tify the pow­er­line, which the he­li­copter struck 48 me­tres above the ground, shortly af­ter take-off.

The he­li­copter de­scended rapidly, trav­el­ling about 400 me­tres af­ter the wire strike be­fore col­lid­ing with the ground in an up­right po­si­tion, and rolling over, re­sult­ing in se­ri­ous in­juries to the pas­sen­ger and mi­nor in­juries to the pi­lot.

“In Victoria, elec­tric­ity net­work in­for­ma­tion is not read­ily avail­able to aid pi­lots dur­ing the flight-plan­ning process,” ATSB di­rec­tor of trans­port safety Stu­art Macleod said.

“Such in­for­ma­tion pro­vides valu­able safety in­for­ma­tion to aid pi­lots in plan­ning flights, and as­sists the visual iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of haz­ards, such as wires and poles.”

He also said it is good prac­tice to al­ways main­tain a height of at least 500 feet above ground level and that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion also high­lighted that pi­lots fly­ing at low level should al­ways be scan­ning the ter­rain on either side of their flight path for poles and tow­ers.

But he added that they should avoid low fly­ing at all un­less it is nec­es­sary.

“The abil­ity of pi­lots to de­tect pow­er­lines de­pends on phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics such as the spac­ing of power poles, the ori­en­ta­tion of the wire, and the ef­fect of weather con­di­tions,” he said.

“De­pend­ing on the environmen­tal con­di­tions, pow­er­lines may not be con­trasted against the sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

“In ad­di­tion, the size of the wire and lim­i­ta­tions of the eye can mean that it is ac­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to see the wire.

“There­fore, it is good prac­tice to al­ways main­tain a height of at least 500 feet above ground level ex­cept dur­ing take-off and land­ing.”

Af­ter the ac­ci­dent, lo­cal landown­ers ad­vised the ATSB that the pow­er­line was erected in the 1970s, and that an air­craft con­duct­ing aerial agri­cul­ture had struck it in the 1980s.

They re­ported that fol­low­ing that past in­ci­dent, or­ange plas­tic marker balls had been fit­ted to the wires, how­ever, they had per­ished over time and not been re­placed.

“Ef­fec­tive wire avoid­ance can be achieved us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of avail­able wire lo­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion; wire mark­ing; and the avoid­ance of un­nec­es­sary low fly­ing, es­pe­cially flight be­low the height of sur­round­ing higher ter­rain where wire spans may be present,” Mr Macleod re­it­er­ated.

The in­ci­dent was the sec­ond of its kind this year in the shire, with four peo­ple lucky to walk away from a he­li­copter crash in Jan­uary af­ter a land­ing went wrong on the edge of Lake Eil­don, near Howqua Inlet.

Mans­field po­lice and other emer­gency ser­vices were on the scene quickly, where it was re­ported on ar­rival that the oc­cu­pants were out of the cock­pit and the chop­per it­self was ly­ing on its side.

Thank­fully, there was no fire present and the four oc­cu­pants were re­ported as not sus­tain­ing se­ri­ous in­juries.

The abil­ity of pi­lots to de­tect pow­er­lines de­pends on phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics such as the spac­ing of power poles, the ori­en­ta­tion of the wire, and the ef­fect of weather con­di­tions. - ATSB DI­REC­TOR OF TRANS­PORT SAFETY STU­ART MACLEOD

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