CCTV footage of an R44 that crashed on 4 July, killing two on board, has revealed its tail rotor and gearbox ‘separated’ shortly after take-off.
The ATSB has also said a different pilot who flew the same aircraft days before the accident reported feeling unusual vibrations through the tail rotor pedals.
The tragic incident in the Kimberley region of WA killed the founder of a West Australian seaplane tour company, Troy Thomas, and a 12-year-old girl. The pilot’s daughter survived and a 24-year-old woman was airlifted to hospital in a critical condition.
ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood said on Friday, “We appreciate that this information may be confronting to the families and friends affected by this tragic accident, and it is for this reason that the ATSB will not be releasing the CCTV footage due to its potentially distressing nature.”
Already, investigators have conducted a detailed inspection of the wreckage and are further examining the separated components.
The team also interviewed a pilot who flew the same aircraft on 2 July and reported feeling “as if something was repetitively tapping through the pedals”. Pilot Troy Thomas himself conducted a short flight in the R44 and confirmed the same vibrations.
Significantly, the R44 Pilot’s Operating Handbook includes a safety tip that states, “A change in the sound or vibration of the helicopter may indicate an impending failure of a critical component.”
Maintenance staff subsequently conducted a “dynamic tail rotor balance” on the day before the accident. However, the balance was found to be within limits, and the maintenance personnel didn’t detect any unusual vibration on the ground.
Overall, the R44 Raven I had 291 recorded hours in service, and there are currently 558 R44s on the Australian civil aircraft register.
“While the investigation is ongoing, the ATSB urges any R44 pilot that experiences unusual vibrations through the tail rotor pedals to land as soon as possible,” said Hood.
Australian Aviation earlier reported that pilot Thomas, 40, set up Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures in 2006 before selling it last year to tourism group Journey Beyond. However, he was retained for one year as a manager.
The group had been on their way to a family holiday when the helicopter crashed shortly after take-off.
Thomas’ friend Karl Langdon, a sports commentator, had breakfast with the pilot hours before his death.
In a tribute on Sunday, he wrote, “To Sophie, the kids and whole Thomas clan I’m mourning with you today. I still cannot believe what has happened. We lost an inspiring father, brother, son and friend yesterday.