CM – ATSB report highlights the risk of visual pilots attempting to fly under instrument conditions – Vertical Mag


The collision with water of a Bell UH-1H helicopter near Anna Bay, NSW, in which all five people on board were lost, shows the significant risk of visual pilots attempting to fly in instrumental conditions, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigation as of September 6, 2019, accident notes.

The pilot of the UH-1H was likely spatially disoriented and lost control of the helicopter while it was flying in the dark, the investigation found. The last light for Anna Bay was released at 6:01 p.m. The recorded data showed that the helicopter made a rapidly descending left turn and collided with water at around 6.13 p.m.

The wreck of the helicopter was then found almost three weeks after the accident in about 30 meters of water, about 5 kilometers southwest of Anna Bay , located.

The pilot is only qualified to fly during the day according to the visual flight rules – VFR – and is therefore not trained or experienced in maintaining control of the helicopter solely on the basis of the flight instruments, according to the investigation notes.

“The ATSB determined that after the last light the pilot flew on without the appropriate training and qualifications and then flew into dark night conditions that provided no visual cues. This severely limited the pilot’s ability to maintain control of the helicopter that was not equipped for night flight, « said ATSB Chief Inspector Greg Hood.

 » Once the visual references were lost, the pilot became likely Spatially disoriented and lost control of the helicopter, which led to a collision with water. ”

The helicopter had taken off from Archerfield Airport in Brisbane on a relocation flight to Bankstown Airport in Sydney. After refueling at Coffs Harbor Airport, the helicopter took off for Bankstown at 4:48 p.m., which, according to the investigation, would not have left the helicopter enough time to safely reach its destination before the published last traffic light.

When the flight was halfway through and approaching the target, the pilot may have become increasingly committed to proceeding with the original plan.

As a result, the decision to turn around or detour may have become increasingly difficult, the investigation notes.

 » A pilot’s decision to continue his flight when faced with a decrease in visual cues may be influenced by the self-induced pressure to end his flight, « said Mr. Hood.

Air traffic control (ATC) at the nearby Royal Australian Air Force Base Williamtown had made several radio calls with the helicopter before the accident to get the pilot at the desired altitude support changes. During an exchange, the pilot spoke to ATC about the turbulent conditions he was experiencing. The person in charge has taken note of the conditions and has made another offer of assistance if necessary.

The pilot may have had visual cues from the ground-based lighting near the flight path of the aircraft as the flight progressed after the last light. At 6:11 p.m., however, the helicopter started a left turn and left the VFR coastal route and pursued offshore on a seemingly direct route to Bankstown.

When the helicopter flew over a structureless sea with overcast skies that blocked the sky illumination, the pilot lost likely any remaining visual cues and encountered dark night conditions. The Williamtown ATC’s radar contact with the helicopter was lost about two minutes later.

“Research has shown that pilots who are unable to maintain control of a helicopter using flight instruments alone become spatially disoriented and lose control within one to three minutes after visual cues are lost, « said Hood.

 » A VFR flight in dark night conditions should only be performed by a pilot with instrument flying skills as there is a significant risk of control to lose when attempting to visually fly under such conditions.

« When day VFR pilots are in a situation where the last light is likely to come before reaching their intended destination, a diversion or precautionary landing is almost certainly the safest option, or the ATC may be able to handle at disp The investigation also found that the pilot, who was in the care of a non-aviation medic, did not disclose ongoing medical treatment to the Civil Aviation Administration (CASA) for serious health problems. While this non-disclosure was not seen as a contributing factor to the accident, it prevented expert consideration and management of the ongoing flight safety risk, medical conditions and prescribed medication.

« This tragic accident also underscores the importance of having owners report relevant medical conditions and medications to their designated aero-medical examiner, « Hood said. » There are ways to deal with certain medical conditions that do not prevent a pilot from obtaining an aero-medical certificate. « 

Read the report: Loss of control and collision with water on Bell UH-1H helicopter, VH-UVC, 3 miles southwest of Anna Bay, New South Wales, on September 6, 2019 (AO-2019-050)

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