Investigator seeks help from helicopter industry

Wreckage of the fatal R44 crash in Broome. Image:ATSB

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is asking for help from pilots, operators and engineers with knowledge of aft tail cone bulkhead or tail rotor gearbox input cartridge damage involving Robinson R22, R44 and R66 helicopters.

The request is part of the ATSB’s investigation of a fatal Robinson R44 helicopter crash in Broome, Western Australia on 4 July 2020. The pilot and one passenger were killed, and two other passengers seriously injured in the crash that happened when the R44’s tail rotor gearbox, tail rotor and tail assembly separated soon after take-off.

The ATSB has made an extensive metallurgical examination and analysis of the airframe and tail rotor components, including examining other R44 helicopter tail rotor gearboxes, components and bulkhead castings.

ATSB Director Transport Safety Mike Walker said the agency had worked closely with the manufacturer, the US National Transportation Safety Board and the UK Air Accidents Investigations Branch to better understand this and similar accidents involving the R44 helicopter, and was now seeking the assistance of industry.

‘To help us better understand the nature of this accident, we are seeking Robinson R22, R44 and R66 helicopter pilots, operators and maintenance engineers who may have knowledge of aft tail cone bulkhead or tail rotor gearbox input cartridge damage, to make contact with us as soon as practical,’ he said.

The Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 requires the ATSB to be notified of damage sustained from when an aircraft is being prepared for flight until it has landed and passengers and crew have disembarked, but not for damage sustained during ground handling.

‘There may have been events during ground handling resulting in damage to Robinson helicopters that were not required to be reported to the ATSB,’ Walker said.

‘As a result, industry may be aware of information that could significantly aid the ATSB’s investigation.’

Any information provided to the ATSB that could assist the investigation would be protected as evidence under the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003, Walker said.

He said it was important to stress the ATSB had not determined the helicopter had sustained ground handling damage, nor that damage while ground handling contributed to the accident.

The ATSB recently published an update report on the crash.