Two recent incidents reported by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) are a salient reminder of how a quickly accessible on-board extinguisher can be your last defence against disaster.
The first happened on a hot and dry afternoon in the Northern Territory in October last year when a pilot landed his R44 in tall grass for his passenger to collect survey data on the ground.
After landing and putting the engine into idle, the pilot noticed an uncommanded change in the sound of the engine and a significant reduction in engine revolutions per minute (RPM) and rotor RPM. As the pilot increased power to improve engine performance, he saw the passenger frantically waving his arms to attract attention.
The pilot realised there was a fire at the rear of the helicopter that was spreading towards the engine bay.
He promptly exited and notified the landholders. Both the pilot and his passenger escaped without injury, but the helicopter and several hectares of grassland were destroyed.
The helicopter was not equipped with a portable fire extinguisher.
The second incident involved a Beech Baron B58 aircraft being assessed for potential charter purposes. The aircraft had only recently passed its 100-hourly inspection, with no defects recorded.
About 90 minutes into the flight one of the pilots saw smoke and flames by his left leg, next to the circuit breaker panel. He immediately turned off the electrical master switch, grabbed the BCF extinguisher from underneath his seat and put the fire out, while the other pilot took control of the aircraft and began an immediate descent.
The flight landed safely, with both pilots uninjured and only minor damage to the aircraft.
The point is clear: having a working fire extinguisher can mean the difference between minor, major and catastrophic damage.