Accident Robinson R44 Raven II VH-IDW, Monday 28 February 2022
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Date:Monday 28 February 2022
Time:13:00 LT
Type:Silhouette image of generic R44 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different    
Robinson R44 Raven II
Owner/operator:Helibrook Pty Ltd
Registration: VH-IDW
MSN: 12335
Year of manufacture:2008
Total airframe hrs:2070 hours
Engine model:Textron Lycoming IO-540-AE1A5
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 2
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Substantial
Location:30 km south of South Goulburn, NT -   Australia
Phase: Manoeuvring (airshow, firefighting, ag.ops.)
Departure airport:King River, NT
Destination airport:King River, NT
Investigating agency: ATSB
Confidence Rating: Accident investigation report completed and information captured
On 28 February 2022, the crew of three Robinson R44 helicopters were preparing to conduct crocodile egg collection in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. The egg collection was conducted under contract to Wildlife Harvesting (Northern Territory).

Each helicopter had two crewmembers – one nominated pilot in command and one egg collector. Two of the helicopters were operating under a Civil Aviation Safety Authority Instrument. The instrument authorised the pilot in command to operate with a person outside the aircraft in a harness system attached to the helicopter for the purpose of collecting crocodile eggs. The authorisation was subject to a number of conditions, which included fitment of equipment under an Engineering Order or a Supplemental Type Certificate and an associated flight manual supplement.

The two helicopters used for sling operations were fitted with dual external cargo hooks, which attached to rings on a 100 ft long line. This enabled the egg collector (‘sling person’) to be slung 100 ft below the helicopter to access the nests. The line could be released by the pilot via a quick release system for the cargo hooks. The cargo hooks were fitted with primary and back-up dual quick release systems, to reduce the likelihood of inadvertent pilot activation and provide redundancy in case of failure. One of those two helicopters was an R44 Raven II, registered VH-IDW, operated by Helibrook Pty Ltd. The third helicopter was primarily to be used for transporting eggs, although both its pilot and collector also collected eggs on foot and wore a harness so they could be slung under either of the other two helicopters as needed.

At about 07:03 Central Standard Time, the three helicopters departed from Noonamah, for a 90-minute flight to a site where fuel drums had been pre-positioned en route to the collect sites. Fuel was available at Noonamah and the drum site, however, there were no accurate records of fuel uplift for VH-IDW.

The helicopters departed from the drum site at about 08:30 and tracked to the King River staging area, where the crews prepared to commence egg collection operations. Recorded OzRunways data for two of the helicopters recorded their arrival at the staging area at 08:50. The pilot and sling person of VH‑IDW planned to start the egg collection from a nest located close to the staging area. At about 09:00, the other two helicopters departed the staging area for their crew to commence collecting eggs about 12 km to the north-east. Data recorded for the egg collection showed that the crew of those two helicopters collected eggs from nine nests between 09:11 and 10:14.

By 10:14, the four crewmembers operating to the north-east became concerned that they had not heard any radio communications from the crew of VH-IDW since departing the staging area. As a result, one of the pilots elected to return to the area they expected VH-IDW to be operating in. At 10:36, the pilot located the wreckage of VH-IDW and landed near the accident site. They found the helicopter substantially damaged having collided with trees and terrain. The sling person was deceased, and the pilot had sustained serious injuries. After providing reassurance to the pilot of VH-IDW, the other pilot returned to their helicopter and took off briefly to get mobile reception and call for assistance. A Careflight helicopter arrived on site at about 12:30 and airlifted the pilot to Maningrida, where they were transferred to an aeroplane and flown to Darwin.

The location of the accident was in the vicinity of the first target nest for egg collection by the crew of VH-IDW. No eggs had been collected, indicating that the accident probably occurred about 90 minutes before it was found. A handheld emergency position indicating radio beacon and the helicopter’s emergency locator transmitter, which was not mounted in the installed airframe rack or armed in case of emergency, were subsequently found in helicopter. Neither was activated to alert rescue personnel at the time of the accident.

The ATSB found that the helicopter was likely not refuelled at the en route fuel depot, which was about three quarters of the way between the departure location on the outskirts of Darwin and a clearing near King River where the helicopter and crew were to commence crocodile egg collecting. The pilot did not identify the reducing fuel state before the helicopter’s engine stopped in flight due to fuel exhaustion. During the subsequent autorotation, the pilot released the egg collector above a likely‑survivable height, fatally injuring them. The pilot then completed the autorotation to the ground, but there was insufficient main rotor energy to cushion the landing. This resulted in serious injuries to the pilot and substantial damage to the helicopter.

The ATSB found that Helibrook’s CASA-approved safety management system was not being used to systematically identify and manage operational hazards. As a result, the risks inherent in conducting human sling operations, such as carriage of the egg collector above a survivable fall height, were not adequately addressed.

The ATSB also found that CASA did not have an effective process for assuring an authorisation would be unlikely to adversely affect safety. As a result, CASA delegates did not use the available structured risk management process to:
- identify and assess risks
- ensure suitable mitigations were included as conditions of the instrument
- assess the effects of changes on the overall risk.

Accident investigation:
Investigating agency: ATSB
Report number: AO-2022-009
Status: Investigation completed
Duration: 1 year and 8 months
Download report: Final report

Sources: (photo)

History of this aircraft

Other occurrences involving this aircraft

8 December 2009 VH-IDW Heliflite Pty Ltd 0 Moruya Airport, NSW sub

Revision history:

28-Feb-2022 09:21 gerard57 Added
28-Feb-2022 11:37 harro Updated [Location]
28-Feb-2022 12:41 RobertMB Updated [Time, Aircraft type, Location, Source, Narrative, Plane category]
28-Feb-2022 12:41 RobertMB Updated
01-Mar-2022 07:18 PolandMoment Updated [Narrative]
02-Mar-2022 06:26 harro Updated [Aircraft type]
02-Mar-2022 06:28 harro Updated [Aircraft type, Registration, Cn, Operator, Nature, Departure airport, Source, Narrative]
02-Mar-2022 06:29 harro Updated [Time, Phase]
02-Mar-2022 06:58 RobertMB Updated [Aircraft type, Cn, Operator, Phase, Nature, Source, Narrative]
02-Mar-2022 14:31 Captain Adam Updated [Location, Nature, Departure airport, Narrative]
22-Nov-2023 09:43 harro Updated [Other fatalities, Narrative, Accident report]

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