7 May 2021

Report sheds light on fatal helicopter crash near Goulburn

| Hannah Sparks
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Goulburn Airport aerial

A trainee pilot and instructor died in the helicopter crash after leaving Goulburn Airport in December 2020. Photo: Goulburn Flight Training Academy.

A preliminary report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has found a fatal helicopter crash near Goulburn on 2 December 2020 happened after the rotor blade struck the aircraft’s main body.

The Robinson R44 helicopter, built in May 2020 in the United States, subsequently became uncontrollable and crashed to the ground in Morton National Park.

According to the report, the trainee pilot and instructor who died at the scene left Goulburn Airport at 3:58 pm that Wednesday.

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The helicopter flew east of Goulburn Airport and a tracking device detected the aircraft descending into a valley in the national park at 4:11 pm.

Another pilot came across the wreckage during a search that was initiated when the helicopter didn’t return to Goulburn Airport that night.

ATSB investigators examined the wreckage and found the helicopter had caught fire after the collision, however, the fire had extinguished before emergency services arrived.

Flight path

The aircraft track at its last transmission point was calculated from tracking data, while the direction at impact was estimated based on the direction of wreckage and damage to trees around the accident site. Photo: Google earth, modified by ATSB.

The trainee pilot was undergoing intensive flight training required to receive a private pilot licence and was 11 days into the course with the operator when the accident happened.

They had accrued a total of 38 hours of dual flying in the helicopter and their first solo flight on the morning of the accident.

The instructor held a grade three helicopter flight instructor rating and had 690 hours of flying experience.

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According to the preliminary report, the helicopter involved in the accident was being maintained correctly.

The company that manufactured the helicopter had issued a warning on 14 October 2020 about concerns with engine valves in the Robinson R44, however, an inspection on 19 November 2020 found no issues.

A special weather report was issued at 3:38 pm, 20 minutes before the helicopter departed, warning of deteriorating weather conditions in the area including cloud.

However, the half-hourly weather report at Goulburn Airport showed light winds and visibility greater than 10 kilometres.

The ATSB has attended the accident site twice to look at the wreckage and collect evidence. Inspectors have also examined the helicopter’s engine and tail rotor driveshaft and conducted interviews with relevant parties.

The investigation is continuing and will include analysis of the weather conditions at the time of the accident, factors that contributed to the rotor blade impacting the helicopter’s body in flight, such as turbulence, pilot input and engine issues, and assessment of similar occurrences in Australia and overseas.

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ATSB will immediately issue a warning if it finds a critical safety issue with the Robinson R44 helicopter during the investigation.

A final report will be released at the conclusion of the investigation and is expected between October and December 2020.

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