Saturday, April 06, 2013

Robinson R44, VH-HWQ: Chopper upgrade could have saved scientists

A helicopter that crashed last month killing four retired CSIRO scientists was hours away from a safety upgrade that could have saved their lives.

An Australian Transport Safety Bureau report, published yesterday, found the aircraft was one of more than 100 across the country not to have modified its fuel tanks to prevent post-crash fires, despite repeated warnings from authorities, The Australian reports.

ATSB chief commissioner Martin Dolan told The Weekend Australian the Robinson R44 helicopter had been due to have the work done after only a few more hours' flying time. Bankstown Helicopters, which owned the aircraft, confirmed this service was scheduled to take place this Monday.

"It was due, it was booked in. It's just a tragedy. We'd flown 2100 hours in that aircraft without an incident," said a company employee.

The ATSB report said the accident on March 21, at Bulli Tops south of Sydney, was the third fatal crash of an R44 helicopter in NSW since the aircraft's manufacturer issued a warning in December 2010 about the danger of post-impact fires.

All three were "low-energy impacts that resulted in the all-aluminium fuel tanks being breached and a fuel-fed fire," the report said.

In the latest collision, the four scientists-- Gerald Haddad, Anthony Farmer, Donald Price and John Dunlop - were flying to have lunch together.

The helicopter's rotor struck tree branches, causing it to hit the ground and tip over, the report said. "A fire started on the grass under the rotor mast and the cabin. The pilot and the three passengers were fatally injured."

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority, which previously drafted a regulation to make the modification mandatory but decided not to enforce this, said it would ground any R44 helicopters that have not had the work done before next month.

Full report, The Australian.

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