THE pilot of December’s fatal helicopter crash in Dorrigo has told authorities he was flying in a complete ‘white-out’.
The helicopter was in the air for only one minute and 20 seconds when it crashed in a paddock near the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre. The pilot also claimed the aircraft had no mechanical defects.
A preliminary report issued by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau report was released yesterday into the crash that killed NPWS ranger Aaron Harber on December 9.
The early findings state the NPWS had contracted the Bell Longranger for fire observation, water bombing and ‘personnel insertion’ duties.
It was operating from a landing and take-off point near the rainforest centre and was headed to fires in the northwest.
At 11.20am, the pilot lost sight of the horizon and the helicopter crashed.
“The pilot later stated that shortly after takeoff, while the helicopter was in a high hover, he looked inside the cockpit at his instruments for a few seconds,” the report says.
“When the pilot looked outside again the helicopter was in what he described as ‘white-out conditions’.
“The pilot experienced a complete loss of visual orientation with the surroundings due to the helicopter being enveloped by cloud.”
The pilot then saw trees and a spur line through the cloud and the helicopter appeared to be in a sideways motion. He tried to land but the helicopter hit the ground and came to rest on its right side.
A man saw the helicopter take off but lost sight of it due to low cloud and then heard it crash ‘a few seconds later’. He was first on scene and saw the pilot walk towards him.
The pilot’s log book shows he had a total of 4073.5 hours flying experience as of September 24, 2009. He reported he’d had a reasonable sleep the night before the accident.
The report says weather in the area at the time of the crash was described as ‘highly variable in visibility due to low cloud’.
Examination of the wreckage showed the vertical fin assembly, main rotor assembly, skid gear and observer’s side door were torn from the helicopter in the accident.
The tail boom was bent down and the skid gear cross tubes were rotated and splayed, indicating a ‘high vertical decent rate at impact’.
The investigation continues and will include further analysis of the accident and impact sequence; recorded data; helicopter maintenance history; pilot experience and background; survivability issues; meteorological data; and suitability of take-off and landing site.