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AW139 tail strike highlights need for situational awareness: ATSB

written by Staff reporter | August 16, 2023

Evidence of contact with a small tree on the tail fin of a Toll-operated AW139. (Image: Toll Helicopters)

A tail rotor strike by a Toll rescue helicopter in 2021 was caused by failure to control drift and yaw in a confined area, the ATSB has found.

The Leonardo AW139 was conducting a late-night medical rescue at Manly in May 2021 when its tail rotor struck a small tree, though the crew did not notice until after they had already discontinued the approach and landed at another site a kilometre away.

None of the two flight crew or two medical personnel on board were injured, and evidence of contact with the tree was discovered during a walk-around after a successful landing.

“This incident highlights the need for flight crew to have a heightened situational awareness when operating into a confined area and unfamiliar location in the vicinity of obstacles,” ATSB Director Transport Safety Stuart Macleod said.

“There is little to no margin to recover from any unexpected events in these conditions.”


The ATSB’s report notes the vital role crew coordination plays in helicopter emergency medical service flights, as it assures improved situational awareness, reduces errors, and fosters effective teamwork.

“Effective coordination and communication (including of concerns) minimises the risk of misinterpretation, ensures accurate transmission of information, and reduces the likelihood of mistakes,” said Macleod.

As a result of the incident, the operator has taken a range of proactive safety actions, including amending operational guidance on minimum clearances from terrain when operating in confined areas, and issuing guidance on site selection during primary missions.

“A final internal safety report was also provided to the ATSB, and proactively shared among the emergency helicopter network,” said Macleod.

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