ROSSY ROTOR CRASH PROBE
Air Transport Safety Bureau investigators have released their findings after a helicopter Pilbara pilot Ross McDowell was flying to muster cattle in 2015 crashed, causing his death at age 62.
The helicopter Mr McDowell, pictured, had assembled just weeks earlier disintegrated in mid-air about 9km from his destination while flying from Indee Station to Roy Hill.
The ATSB found a stabiliser had separated from the tail boom as a result of fatigue cracking of the stabiliser mount, but were unable to determine how a number of possible factors contributed to the fatigue.
Mr McDowell, known affectionately as Rossy Rotor, was one of the region’s most experienced helicopter pilots.
Both helicopters had previously been used for mustering.
A well-known pilot who died when his kit helicopter crashed in the North West was using the machine for mustering when it was designed for recreational use only, an Air Transport Safety Bureau investigation has found.
Ross McDowell, 62, pictured, was flying from Indee Station to Roy Hill Station in the Pilbara to round-up cattle in 2015 when the helicopter he had assembled just weeks earlier disintegrated in mid-air, about 9km from his destination.
The ATSB examined the wreckage and found a stabiliser had separated from the tail boom as a result of fatigue cracking of the stabiliser mount.
It was the second fatal accident in Australia involving inflight stabiliser separation on a Cicare CH-7B.
Following the first fatality in Queensland in 2014, the manufacturer released a mandatory service bulletin requiring inspection of the stabiliser assembly but it did not include an initial or recurrent time interval for that check.
“This potentially reduced the opportunity to detect the presence of crack initiation and growth in the stabiliser support assembly,” the ATSB crash investigation said.
The ATSB found there were notable differences between both aircraft and the accidents were not directly comparable.
However, it was established they were fitted with an external storage pod, likely without the appropriate engineering assessment to ensure no adverse effects on performance, handling and structure.
“In addition, both helicopters had previously been used for mustering operations, although the helicopters were designed to be used for recreational use only,” the report stated.
The ATSB found owners of the same amateur-built choppers were also likely using them for aerial mustering and other agricultural activities.
“The addition of unapproved modifications and use for mustering operations can produce unintended stresses on the airframe leading to premature failure of components,” the report said.
The ATSB found a combination of factors could have contributed to the development of the fatigue crack including the stabiliser design, operating the helicopter in high-load mustering activities and the use of untested accessories.
The investigation was unable to determine the contribution of these factors.
A statement released by Mr McDowell’s family said they welcomed the finalisation of the report, as it allowed progression to a Coroner’s investigation, which they hoped would lead to the prevention of further deaths as a result of kit helicopters.
Mr McDowell, known affectionately as Rossy Rotor, was one of the Pilbara’s most experienced helicopter pilots, with more than 30,000 flying hours, and was remembered as a father figure to young pastoralists in the north. He spent more than 30 years flying between stations to muster cattle until his death five years ago.