CCTV reveals tail rotor fell from R44 crash that killed two

written by Adam Thorn | July 10, 2020
R44 crashed in WA July 4 VH-NBY tail cone (ATSB)
The tail cone wreckage from VH-NBY that crashed in WA on 4 July (ATSB)

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.

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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.”

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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.

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5 Comments

  • Dermott

    says:

    I wonder when these will be banned in Australia and New Zealand

  • Michael

    says:

    For such a catastrophic failure to occur almost immediately after a no fault found maintenance occurrence is somewhat disturbing and bewildering…….

  • Nicholas

    says:

    Anything but a Robinson.

    I always tell anyone going for a helicopter make sure it’s not a Robinson because of their poor safety record.

  • Joe

    says:

    As above

  • Doug

    says:

    I’ve never been that comfortable with Robinsons. However, before condemning them out of hand, it’s worthwhile considering their popularity (numbers) and incidence of accidents in them wrt hours flown, and perhaps in the context of their mode of use. They are popular because they are inexpensive; many (not all) might be flown by low-time pilots; many might be flown in high-structural stress situations, such as mustering, and in close ground or hazard proximity, including powerline inspections. But it can be argued that many of these factors can be applied to almost all helicopters, by the very nature of their capacity for work in such areas. But at this stage, until that information is comprehensively to hand, I’d prefer to avoid them.

    I think it is a real matter of concern that this equipment failed immediately, within mere flight-minutes, after an inspection and testing to investigate immediate prior advice of a potential problem by two other parties, including the deceased pilot, who was obviously conscientious enough to quickly address his concerns.

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