A crew member of a Queensland government AW139 was dragged through trees on a winch after a rescue mission went wrong at night, the ATSB has revealed.
The incident, which took place on 20 June in Caboolture in the state’s Moreton Bay region, occurred because the pilot rapidly climbed after realising his rotors had struck trees. The dangling crew member began to spin before eventually being hauled back into the Leonardo helicopter.
The ATSB’s director transport safety, Dr Stuart Godley, said the findings were only preliminary, and that the fuller investigation would examine weather conditions, flight recorder data and aircrew training records to establish more details of what happened.
The Leonardo AW139, VH-EGK msn 31827, was on a mission to retrieve a horse rider who was injured in a fall at the property west of Caboolture.
The flight was conducted at night with the aircrew using the helicopter’s night vision imaging system, including night-vision goggles.
The rotor strike occurred when the rescue crew officer was being winched on board the helicopter from a confined area, after the patient, in a stretcher, and the flight paramedic had already been successfully winched back together into the helicopter.
“An ATSB preliminary report from the ongoing investigation notes that after the rotor blades struck the trees, the pilot immediately applied collective input to climb and manoeuvred the helicopter to the left away from the tree line,” said Dr Godley.
As the helicopter moved away from the confined area the crew member was “partially dragged through” trees, before being lifted back into the helicopter.
“The pilot reported that feedback through the flight controls remained normal and the helicopter’s crew alerting system remained clear, with no abnormal vibrations felt by the pilot or detected by the helicopter systems,” Dr Godley said.
The pilot decided to return to its Archerfield base, where a ‘running landing’ was completed and the patient was transferred to a road ambulance.
The preliminary report has already revealed that, of the helicopter’s five main rotor blades, one sustained significant damage to its tip cap. The same blade also sustained a small skin puncture about one metre from the blade tip, while two other blades showed evidence of damage to the abrasion strip on the outermost edge of the tip cap.
The damaged blades were then shipped to the helicopter’s manufacturer, Leonardo, in Italy for detailed inspection and repair.
“ATSB preliminary reports detail factual information established in the investigation’s early evidence collection phase, and contain no analysis or findings, which will be detailed in the investigation’s final report,” Dr Godley said.
“The ongoing investigation will also include detailed examination and analysis of the weather conditions and data from the helicopter’s multi-purpose flight recorder, a review of the operator’s procedures and risk controls and aircrew training records, and analysis of the AW139 helicopter’s autohover and anti-vibration systems.”