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Pilot did not see handrail that hit helicopter’s tail, says ATSB

written by Staff reporter | April 29, 2024

An Agusta A019 helicopter struck a handrail on a container ship in December 2023. (Image: ATSB)

A helicopter that suffered tail damage when landing on a ship off Mackay struck a handrail that had not been removed, the ATSB said.

The Agusta A109, VH-RUA, was landing on bulk carrier Tai Keystone on 6 December 2023 when the pilot heard a “shredding noise” and an increase in engine pitch before conducting an emergency shutdown. In its final report, the ATSB said the tail rotor hit a handrail unseen by the pilot.

The helicopter sustained substantial damage and was secured to the deck of the Tai Keystone, which then returned to Hay Point to allow the helicopter to be recovered.

The ATSB investigation found that the ship’s crew was using an older version of the vessel’s helicopter operations checklist, which did not require the removal of the handrail, and the handrail was not removed during preparation of the landing site.

In addition, the handrail was not painted in a colour that contrasted with the ship’s deck, which was not in accordance with international guidance. The helicopter was also not positioned correctly during the landing, resulting in its tail rotor being outside the obstacle-free zone.


“It is the responsibility of the pilot in command to ensure that a landing area is safe, but likewise, vessel operators should ensure their procedures and landing areas on ships are aligned with the relevant guidance material,” said ATSB director of transport safety Stuart Macleod.

“To best aid pilots, objects that present a threat to a landing helicopter that are retractable, collapsible or removable should be painted in an appropriate colour to ensure they are visible if forgotten or missed.

“Where possible, helicopter pilots should attempt to gather as much information as possible about the helicopter landing site, prior to departure, in these types of operations.”

Since the accident, the ship’s operator has updated the relevant checklist, and the helicopter operator has amended its procedures to ensure helicopter pilots are provided with a visual representation of each individual vessel’s helicopter landing site prior to departure.

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