The ATSB (Australian Transport Safety Bureau) has realeased the preliminary report on investigation number AO-2018-026.
On 21 March 2018, at about 1500 Eastern Standard Time, the pilot and four passengers of a Eurocopter (Airbus Helicopters) EC120 B helicopter, registered VH-WII and operated by Whitsunday Air Services Pty Ltd, departed Hamilton Island Airport, Queensland, on a charter flight. The flight included flying over coral reefs and beaches, then landing on the Hardy Reef floating helicopter landing site (HLS). The HLS (pontoon) was located about 72 km north‑north‑east of the Hamilton Island Airport situated between Hardy Reef and Hook Reef, in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Area. After landing, the passengers were to be ferried from the HLS by a small boat to ‘Reefworld’, a large pontoon used to view aquatic life and a base for water sports. This was the second flight that day, by the pilot in VH-WII, to Hardy Reef. The earlier flight was conducted without incident.
While approaching the pontoon, at about 1535, the pilot reported noticing a warning message illuminate in the upper vehicle and engine multifunction display. As this was a high workload phase of flight, the pilot was unable to verify the nature of the warning. However, in response, the pilot elected to conduct a go-around. When the helicopter was at an altitude of about 40 ft (12 m) above the pontoon, the pilot recalled feeling a ‘thud’ and the nose of the helicopter yawed sharply left (anticlockwise from above). In an attempt to arrest the yaw, the pilot reported that he made a number of control inputs, which included lowering the collective and pushing the cyclic forward and to the left. The pilot was unable to regain control of the helicopter and it collided with the water. A passenger reported that soon after impact with the water, the helicopter rolled onto its right side in a mostly inverted orientation.
The pilot and two of the rear passengers exited the helicopter soon after the collision. After swimming free from the upturned helicopter, the two passengers reported donning their life jackets from a waist belt mounted pouch.
The remaining rear passenger was evacuated by one of the surviving passengers and the front passenger (in the copilot seat) was evacuated from the helicopter by the pilot. At about that time, personnel from Reefworld arrived and assisted with first aid and resuscitation until emergency services arrived. The two passengers that were unable to exit the helicopter unassisted were fatally injured. The two other passengers sustained minor injuries, and the pilot was uninjured.
The helicopter was observed in a semi-submersed state for some time after the occupants had been evacuated and was drifting inverted in a northerly direction away from the landing pontoon. The helicopter’s emergency float system was not deployed.
The ATSB investigation is continuing and will include consideration of the following:
- An underwater survey using a remotely operated vehicle to establish if the man-made object located by sonar is the accident helicopter.
- Depending on the outcome of the under water survey, the ATSB may recover the wreckage for inspection and recovery of recorded information.
- Helicopter maintenance history.
- Helicopter performance and handling characteristics.
- Pilot qualifications, training, experience and medical information.
- Preperation of passengers, including briefings, for possible emergencies.
- Survivability of the accident.
- Operator policies and normal and emergency procedures.
- Civil Aviation Safety Authority operator surveillance records
- Environmental influences.
- Similar occurrences in Australia and internationally.