australian aviation logo

Lack of fuel likely killed Netflix star in helicopter crash, says ATSB

written by Jake Nelson | November 22, 2023

The Robinson R44 that crashed near King River in February 2022. (Image: CareFlight)

The NT helicopter crash that killed Outback Wrangler and Wild Croc Territory cast member Chris Wilson last year was likely caused by fuel exhaustion, the ATSB has found.

An investigation by the transport safety watchdog determined that the Robinson R44 VH-IDW, which was on a mission to collect crocodile eggs near the King River in February 2022, likely ran out of fuel while Wilson was in a sling line below the helicopter, causing the engine to stop.

“Based on an analysis of fuel samples and other evidence, the ATSB investigation found that the helicopter was likely not refuelled at a fuel depot about three quarters of the way between Darwin and the crocodile egg collecting area, and that the pilot did not identify the reducing fuel state before the helicopter’s engine stopped due to fuel exhaustion,” said ATSB chief commissioner Angus Mitchell.

“As such, this accident illustrates the importance of effective fuel management, which is especially critical when operating a helicopter where a fuel-related power loss offers few safe options.”

The ATSB said in its report that during the autorotation emergency forced landing procedure that followed, the pilot, Sebastian Robinson, released the hooks and sling line carrying Wilson “above a height that would likely be survivable”.


The helicopter subsequently hit the ground without enough energy from the main rotor to cushion the landing, causing Robinson severe spinal injuries.

Investigators have pointed the finger at operator Helibrook, owned by celebrity crocodile wrangler Matt Wright, saying that the company’s CASA-approved safety management system was not being used to systematically identify and manage operational hazards.

“As a result, the operator did not adequately address the risks inherent in conducting human sling operations, such as carriage of the egg collector above a survivable fall height,” said Mitchell.

“In addition, and although not assessed on the evidence as having been contributory to this accident, the operator’s history of non-compliance with regulatory requirements, maintenance standards and accurate record keeping, increased the risk level for much of their aviation activities.”

CASA also shared blame for its decision-making process, including allowing the sling apparatus to operate above non-survivable fall heights. In a statement, the authority said it has revised its processes.

“The report also made a finding that CASA could have better documented our decision making, and the internal risk management methodology we use when considering applications from operators. That finding has now been addressed and closed,” CASA said.

“CASA’s assessment on the reliability of the helicopter hook led to a height limitation being imposed. Once the hook was assessed and approved, the height restriction was removed.”

Wright, who has denied any wrongdoing in the incident, is facing criminal charges.

You need to be a member to post comments. Become a member today!

You don't have credit card details available. You will be redirected to update payment method page. Click OK to continue.