Source: VTOL e-news Asia-Pacific - November Report
ATSB Update – UH-1H – Lost in bad weather near Newcastle on 6 Sep ’19
Our thanks to Paul Sadler, Communications Manager, Australian Transport Safety Bureau, for keeping us informed on VTOL safety incidents. Thanks Paul!
ATSB Preliminary Report of 7 Nov 2019 is still under investigation. The Final Report yet to be released. Edited below due space considerations.
What happened. On 6 Sep ’19, at 1430 AEST, VH-UVC, a Bell UH-1H helicopter departed Archerfield Airport, Qld, with four passengers on board. The owner-pilot was delivering the helicopter to Bankstown Airport, NSW. Australia.
At about 1600 VH-UVC landed at Coffs Harbour, NSW and was refuelled. It then departed south at 1648 and at 1755, the pilot called Williamtown Tower, for a clearance to track south via the Visual Flight Rules lane. He also requested a climb to higher altitude, to ‘take advantage of favourable winds. The tower then asked the pilot to contact Williamtown Approach for clearance.
At 1757, the pilot made contact and was identified four nm to the north-east of Broughton Island. He was cleared to operate at whatever altitude was needed, but not below 2,400 ft (LSALT). The pilot then asked to operate between 3,000 and 3,500 ft. At 1758 VH-UVC was cleared to track coastal at 3,000 to 3,500 ft. At 1759, Approach asked the pilot if Bankstown was his destination. At 1800, the pilot was then told if any further track and altitude changes were required to advise accordingly. (Possibly due bad weather along intended route).
At 1801, the controller again offered alternative tracking if required. The pilot responded requesting to remain on the eastern side of R578A restricted area. The controller clarified this request - the pilot replied if it was not available, he would continue the VFR coastal route. The pilot was then cleared to track as required for Bankstown Airport. The track clearance was acknowledged by the pilot at 1802.
However, at 1805, the controller asked if things were “operations normal?” This was due to the fact, VH-UVC dropped to 2,700 ft. In reply, the pilot commented on a sudden wind gust affecting the helicopter’s altitude. The controller then re-cleared VH-UVC to operate between 2,400 (LSALT) and 3,500 ft. The pilot again commented on the turbulent conditions. The controller again offered his assistance to the pilot - if it was needed.
VH-UVC was observed making a left turn to the south, departing the coastal VFR lane and heading offshore. According to Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast (ADS-B) data supplied by Airservices Australia, the helicopter’s position at the beginning of the turn at 1811, was 2.3 km west-south-west of Anna Bay.
The aircraft continued to track offshore to the south-west for about 1 min 20 sec, maintaining between 3,000 and 3,600 ft before commencing a rapidly descending, left turn. Later data showed the aircraft commenced this descent from 3,400 ft at about 1813, and the last data point identified the aircraft passing 525 ft only seconds later.
Two attempts by the Approach controller to contact the pilot were unsuccessful.
The controller then called the pilot saying identification had been lost and to immediately check altitude. Further advice on area QNH, the lowest safe altitude in the area, and an instruction to climb immediately were broadcast. The controller followed that transmission with several more unsuccessful attempts to contact the pilot.
Pilot details. The pilot held a CPL(H) and was qualified to fly by day under the Visual Flight Rules. The pilot last conducted a single-engine helicopter flight review in October 2018 that was valid until 31 October 2020. His logbook indicated he had a total of 1,440.5 flying hours experience. The pilot held a Class 1 aviation medical certificate that was valid until 26 Apr 2020.
Weather and available light. Forecast weather for the Williamtown area included moderate to severe turbulence and wind gusts up to 38 knots from the north-west from 1000. From 1800, severe turbulence was forecast with wind gusts up to 45 knots occurring from the west-north-west and layers of scattered cloud at 4,000 ft & broken cloud at 12,000 ft AGL. Light showers of rain were also forecast. At 1753, controllers at Williamtown observed the visibility to be about 6 to 7 km.
Last light for the Anna Bay area, was calculated to occur at 1801; however, the presence of cloud cover, dust or masking terrain to the west would have resulted in last light occurring at an earlier time.
Further investigation. The investigation is continuing and will include examination of: meteorological conditions and pre flight preparation, pilot qualifications, experience and medical history, recovered aircraft wreckage, aircraft performance characteristics and recorded flight data, aircraft maintenance documentation and operational records from of air traffic services.
Our thoughts are with the families in these difficult times.