Preliminary report details R22 mustering helicopter accident

  • Robinson R22 had returned to camp at end of day's mustering operations, before engine was restarted;
  • Wreckage discovered the next day, with pilot found to be fatally injured and the helicopter destroyed;
  • Preliminary report outlines known order of events and contains no findings or analysis, which will be included in the investigation's final report.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has released a preliminary report from its on-going investigation into a fatal Robinson R22 helicopter accident in the Northern Territory's East Arnhem Land, on 14 November 2022.

The preliminary report details factual information established in the investigation's early evidence collection phase, but presents no analysis or findings, which will be detailed in the investigation's final report.

The R22, registered VH-LOS, was being used as part of a multi-vehicle animal mustering operation in the Arafura Swamp, south of Ramingining.

At the end of the day's work, the land vehicles departed the swamp to return to the mustering camp, about 20 km west.

A witness reported the helicopter remained at the swamp as the others departed, and it was expected the pilot would depart shortly to pick up another member of the group, from the southern edge of the swamp, before continuing to the camp.

Flight tracking information showed the helicopter took off at about 6:00pm, before flying to the south of the swamp and shutting down. It was later reported, however, that they did not pick up the other group member at this time.

"The data then showed the helicopter departing the swamp, tracking to the mustering camp, then landing and shutting down at 6:54pm," ATSB Director Transport Safety Dr Michael Walker said.

"Later, the data showed the helicopter was started again at 7:21pm, but this tracking ended about one minute later with the helicopter still at the camp."

There was no data recorded after this time.

The preliminary report notes sunset at Ramingining was at 7:05pm and last light was at 7:27pm, and there was no moon. The pilot was not rated to fly at night, and the helicopter was not equipped for night flight.

The helicopter and pilot were not at the camp when the other members of the mustering party arrived from the swamp. At about 9:00pm they commenced a land-based search, but were unable to find the pilot.

"Some acquaintances attended the area in helicopters the following day to conduct an aerial search, and the accident site was located about 6 km east-south-east of the mustering camp," Dr Walker said.

The pilot was deceased, and the helicopter destroyed.

To date, the ATSB has examined the accident site and wreckage, interviewed witnesses who were involved in the mustering operations and the search, and collected meteorological data, aircraft maintenance records and pilot records.

"From here, the investigation will further review pilot records, medical information, witness information, and aircraft maintenance and flight records," Dr Walker said.

"Investigators will also further examine aircraft wreckage, meteorological data, and recorded aircraft tracking data."

A final report will be released at the conclusion of the investigation.

"However, should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties so appropriate and timely safety action can be taken," Dr Walker concluded.

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