Report released on crash of firefighting helicopter in Queensland

The Bell 214B crashed while on a water-dropping mission Nov. 13, 2019

B214 helicopter crash Queensland November 13 2019
Bell 214, Queensland, Australia, November 13, 2020. Photo by operator.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has released an Occurrence Brief regarding the Bell 214B that crashed while it was on a water dropping mission near Pechey, Queensland, Australia November 13, 2019.

The pilot suffered minor injuries and was flown to a hospital by another helicopter.

Below is the complete text of the Brief. (We added the photo taken by 9News):


Occurrence Briefs are concise reports that detail the facts surrounding a transport safety occurrence, as received in the initial notification and any follow-up enquiries. They provide an opportunity to share safety messages in the absence of an investigation.

What happened
On 13 November 2019, a Bell 214B helicopter was water bombing during fire control operations near Pechey, Queensland. At 1344 Eastern Standard Time, the helicopter approached the bushfire downwind and down hill from the north-west at about 60 knots, and made a descending right-hand turn back into wind over the fire.

The descent was continued towards the drop zone. The airspeed was further slowed and the height was reduced to about 150 feet above ground level (50 feet above treetop level). The pilot then released the load of water before departing the drop area into rising terrain. The pilot heard the low rotor RPM warning and had insufficient altitude and clearance from obstacles to recover the rotor RPM and continue flying. He was concerned that further actions required to recover the rotor RPM would result in the helicopter possibly striking trees or ending up in the actively burning fire.

Helicopter Down crash Queensland Australia
Bell 412B crashed while working on a fire near Pechey, Queensland, Australia November 13, 2019. Photo by 9News

In maintaining the climb to avoid rising ground, trees and fire, the rotor RPM appeared to decay further. As the helicopter cleared the trees, it began to descend, yawed to the right and the left-hand skid collided with the ground. The helicopter rolled onto its left side resulting in substantial damage. The pilot was able to turn off the fuel to stop the engine and exited the helicopter via the overhead window with minor injuries. Neither the g-force activated ELT beacon or flight tracking alarm were triggered.

The distance from the last water drop to the impact point was less than 100 metres and the recovered aircraft showed little evidence of damage from forward moment.

B214 helicopter crash Queensland November 13 2019
Bell 214, Queensland, Australia, November 13, 2020. Photo by operator.

Operator’s investigation and comments
Based on the pilot’s account of the accident and assessment of the recovered aircraft, mechanical malfunctions were ruled out as a contributing factor. The operator determined that the accident was most likely the result of a loss of rotor RPM that the pilot was unable to recover, due to a downwind descending turn, low altitude for the water drop, and a departure into rising terrain. The pilot had to make a decision between putting the helicopter into tall trees and active bushfire or climbing over the trees to clear ground. In choosing the latter, the rotor RPM decayed further and the helicopter contacted the ground.

The operator stated that the helicopter type is renowned for its ‘hot and high’ performance making it a very effective firefighting platform. Firefighting combines a number of factors which result in flying that is close to the performance limits of the aircraft – high gross weights, low airspeeds, low altitude, close quarters manoeuvring, high work rate environment and adverse weather conditions. In this case the combination of factors immediately leading up to the accident resulted in the helicopter operating outside its performance envelope without having enough space and height to recover.

Safety action
As a result of this occurrence, the aircraft operator has advised the ATSB that they are taking the following safety actions:

The operator has provided a briefing to all of their pilots on the circumstances and the outcome of this accident. The pilot involved in this accident will be involved in future training and checking to enable the recognition and avoidance of the circumstances that saw the limitations and flight envelope exceeded. This training will become part of the operator’s annual training for all pilots conducting fire control operations.

Safety message
Fire control flying operations can involve challenges and complexities that require crews to maintain a heightened awareness of their aircraft’s operating limits and the environmental conditions. Flying within operating limits can ensure pilots have a performance margin to react to unforeseen circumstances.

About this report
Decisions regarding whether to conduct an investigation, and the scope of an investigation, are based on many factors, including the level of safety benefit likely to be obtained from an investigation. For this occurrence, no investigation has been conducted and the ATSB did not verify the accuracy of the information. A brief description has been written using information supplied in the notification and any follow-up information in order to produce a short summary report, and allow for greater industry awareness of potential safety issues and possible safety actions.

Air Attack aircraft lands without landing gear lowered

After the mechanical malfunction, the crew walked away

landing gear failure

Above: photo from the preliminary report

A malfunction of the landing gear system on a Cessna 337 resulted in the Air Attack crew having to land without the landing gear lowered. The incident occurred August 8, 2018 at the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport in Idaho.

Thanks to excellent crew resource management everything turned out about as well as it could have, considering the pilot had to land the aircraft on its belly.

Below is the text from the preliminary report:


At approximately 1730 hrs Nxxx was on a 3 mile final for runway 30: while on final the pilot initiated extending the landing gear. Both the pilot and I had a routine of verifying gear extension/retraction by looking out the window and verifying the correct color of the landing gear lights on the instrument panel. While on 3 mile final we did not observe our landing gear through the window or have “3 green” lights indicating that our landing gear was down and locked.

The pilot cycled the landing gear lever and checked the circuit breaker: our landing gear did not extend. We notified XXX air traffic control tower that we were experiencing an issue with our landing gear and requested a low level fly by to have the tower provide visual confirmation of the status of the landing gear. The tower reported that our gear doors were open: however out landing gear was still retracted. Nxxx gained altitude and requested clearance to remain within the XXX airspace south of the field.

As we gained altitude we verified that we had approximately 1.5hrs of fuel remaining. I offered assistance to the pilot by asking “what can I do to help… what do you need from me?” the pilot handed me the emergency procedure checklist and asked me to find the “landing gear fails to extend” checklist. I located the checklist and began to read the checklist to the pilot over the ics system: actively participating in the emergency checklist trouble-shooting process. The emergency checklist instructed us to pull the circuit breaker for the electric hydraulic pump, extend the manual gear pump handle, pump 95 times and look for the landing gear to “extend”. Both the pilot and I attempted pumping the handle several 95+ pump cycles and the manual handle pumped easily without resistance. Based on the lack of resistance during the pumps we determined that we were not building hydraulic pressure. Continue reading “Air Attack aircraft lands without landing gear lowered”

Making a withdrawal from the Bank of Experience

Sully, the movie about the Miracle on the Hudson that opened today has so far received pretty good reviews. As you may know, it is about the aircraft that struck a flock of geese at 3,200 feet about 100 seconds after taking off from La Guardia airport near New York City.

Captain Chesley Sullenberger
Captain Chesley Sullenberger. Photo by Ingrid Taylar.

Chesley B. Sullenberger III was the pilot in command. After both engines went silent he said to his First Officer whose turn it was to take off on that flight, “My aircraft”.

Captain Sullenberger, now often called “Sully”, was selected for a cadet glider program while attending the Air Force Academy. By the end of that year he was an instructor pilot. When he graduated in 1973 he received the Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship award, as the class “top flyer”. He went on to fly F-4 Phantoms in the Air Force and served as a member of an aircraft accident investigation board in the Air Force. After he became a commercial pilot for US Airways he occasionally assisted the NTSB on accident investigations and taught courses on Crew Resource Management.

When the geese hit the engines January 15, 2009, Sully felt the impact, but more disturbing was the the sensation after the engines quit of slightly moving forward in his harness as the aircraft suddenly went from accelerating to slowing — at low altitude over New York City when they were supposed to be climbing.

US Airways did not have a checklist for the loss of both engines in an Airbus A320 at low altitude. The First Officer, Jeffery Skiles, went through the checklist for restarting the engines, but of course had no success. Sully evaluated their options — returning to La Guardia, diverting to Teterboro airport, or the third choice, a water landing in the Hudson River. Based on his experience, and drawing on his background as a glider pilot, he determined that it was impossible to make it to either airport. He lowered the nose and headed toward the river.

Passing 900 feet above the George Washington Bridge he pointed the aircraft so it would come to rest near a boat he spotted, thinking that it could help pull the passengers out of the very cold water on that winter day. Working with his First Officer, they made the only non-fatal water landing of a large commercial aircraft in recent history.

Airbus Hudson river
US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River. Photo by Greg L.

As the 150 passengers and four other crew members climbed out onto the wings and waited for rescue by ferry boats, Sully walked through the passenger compartment as it took on water to make sure everyone was off, then grabbed the maintenance log book and was the last one to exit the aircraft.

In a  recent interview Katie Couric conducted with Sully director Clint Eastwood and actors Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart, she recalled something Sully, who at the time had 19,663 flight hours, told her not long after the successful water landing:

For 42 years I’ve been making small regular deposits in this bank of experience, education, and training. On January 15 the balance was sufficient so I could make a very large withdrawal.

In the last few decades wildland firefighters have used another name for the “bank of experience”, their “slide file” —  memories of the situations they have been in over the course of their careers, good experiences and bad ones, all of which left data from which they can extrapolate solutions to new situations.

There is of course no substitute for an account balance in a bank of experience or a slide file. You can acquire incremental bits of it from books and training. But you can’t write a check and easily transfer it to someone else, not entirely, anyway. It has to be earned and learned, organically.

And here’s hoping you don’t have to “make a very large withdrawal”, on the ground or in the air.

Be-200ES strikes tree, lands safely

Be-1200ES wing damage tree strike
This is reportedly damage to the wing of a Be-200ES after striking a tree while fighting a wildfire in Portugal.

A Be-200ES struck a tree August 14 while fighting a fire in Portugal but thankfully was able to land safely at Leiria. The jet-powered amphibious water scooper sustained major damage to a pontoon, the right wing leading edge, and the right side wing flaps. There were no reports of injuries to the crew. Other photos of the damage can be seen here.

Since last week two Be-200ES air tankers have been on loan to Portugal by the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations after a rash of numerous fires in the country and on Madeira Island.

This is not the first time a Russian Be-200 hit a tree in Portugal. A similar accident occurred July 6, 2006 when the aircraft was leased to the Portuguese government as a trial to evaluate its effectiveness. After scooping water on a lake the left wing hit a tree.

From the Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manhã at the time:

…While hitting the top of the trees, leaves and some wood entered the left engine, which didn’t blow up, but that had to be turned off and the pilot was forced to release fuel for safety reasons. The release of the fuel started small wildfires across the area, reaching some houses, which were quickly extinguished by firefighters and helitack units of the GNR’s Intervention, Protection and Rescue Group.

The airplane was able to do an emergency landing at the Monte Real Air Base.

Until this month, Be-200 air tankers had not been used in Portugal since the 2006 incident. Maybe they’ll wait another 10 years before they try again.

Landing gear failure grounds CL-415 air tankers in France

CL-415 landing gear failure
CL-415 landing gear failure on a CL-415 in France closed the airport at Ajaccio, Corsica on Tuesday. Photo SSLIA 2A.

On Monday the right side main landing gear on a CL-415 air tanker failed while the aircraft was taxiing prior to taking off at the Ajaccio, Corsica airport. When the gear collapsed the right side wing dropped to the ground damaging the float and causing some fuel to spill from a damaged fuel tank.

There were no injuries to the crew of the air tanker but the airport was closed for several hours until the aircraft could be moved.

The entire fleet of twelve CL-415s in France are grounded until an inspection can determine the cause of the gear failure. Depending on the findings, inspections may be required on all of the aircraft.

Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea belonging to France.

Below is a excerpt from a statement issued by Civil Security. It is roughly translated from French by Google:

The accident investigation office of Defense (CRDP), competent for state aircraft (…) triggered an investigation. Alongside technical survey is conducted in conjunction with the aircraft manufacturer, the Canadian company Bombardier.

Following these analyzes, which should take about 48 hours, Bombardier will determine whether it is necessary to carry out inspections on the landing gear of the Canadair fleet of civil security and in what protocol before allow the resumption of operations.

In addition to the CL-415 water scoopers, France also has access to S2-T and Dash 8 air tankers.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jerome and Jan.

Martin Mars damaged at Wisconsin airshow

 

(Note to our readers: the above video was shot several days ago during a successful demonstration flight of the Martin Mars.)

The Martin Mars struck shallow rocks in Lake Winnebago on Friday while doing a demonstration during Wisconsin’s EAA AirVenture Oshkosh airshow, according to a Canadian news report.

Pilots were scooping water out of the lake when an engine warning light came on, and they were forced to abandon take off. The plane struck shallow rocks, which punched a few repairable holes in the plane’s belly, according to the news report.

Yakima firefighters save helicopter from crash landing

Last week members of the Yakima Fire Department rushed to save a damaged helicopter from a crash landing at the Yakima Air Terminal.

The helicopter had been on a search and rescue mission for a lost hiker when its fuselage and one of its skids were heavily damaged, according to local media reports. 

In dramatic fashion, the helicopter was forced to hover over the tarmac while firefighters cobbled together a landing platform out of wooden palettes, The Yakima Herald reported. Some crew members and passengers jumped out of the helicopter while it hovered.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Patrick.

More information about Croman’s S-61A crash

S-61A crash sikorsky helicopter
S-61A crash

It was initially described as a “hard landing”. However, information from the FAA and a photo we received indicate an incident that involved one of Croman’s S-61A Sikorsky helicopters on August 19, 2015 (that we wrote about on August 24) was more than that. We can’t verify with 100 percent certainty that the helicopter in the photo above is Croman’s S-61A, N1043T that crashed that day while working on the Eldorado Fire eight miles southeast of Unity, Oregon. But the person who sent us the photo said it is, and the paint job, the position of the helicopter, and the damage to the tail boom match the NTSB’s description of the crash.

Below is text from the NTSB Preliminary Report, ID# WPR15LA248, that was updated on September 3, 2015:

****

“14 CFR Part 133: Rotorcraft Ext. Load
Accident occurred Wednesday, August 19, 2015 in Ironside, OR
Aircraft: SIKORSKY S 61A, registration: N1043T
Injuries: 1 Minor, 1 Uninjured.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On August 19, 2015, about 1930 Pacific daylight time, a Sikorsky S-61A, N1043T, landed on a mountainside after experiencing a partial loss of engine power about 7 miles west of Ironside, Oregon. The commercial pilot sustained no injuries and the air transport pilot sustained minor injuries. The helicopter sustained substantial damage to the tailboom. The helicopter was registered to, and operated by, Croman Corp under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 133 as a firefighting flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which operated under a company flight plan. The flight originated from Baker City Municipal Airport (BKE), Baker City, Oregon at 1715.

The commercial pilot reported that shortly after picking up a bucket of water from a pond he gained airspeed and initiated a climbing left turn back towards the fire. As the helicopter started to climb, he heard a drop in RPM and the helicopter lost power. He attempted to continue the climb; however, the helicopter was too heavy. He released the water and landed the helicopter on a mountain side; subsequently, the helicopter rolled onto its right side.

The helicopter has been recovered to a secure location for further examination.”

****

UPDATE, September 15, 2015:

Earlier this year a Croman S-61A helicopter’s main rotor hit a tree while dipping water on the Cabin Fire on the Sequoia National Forest in California. Below is an excerpt from the Rapid Lesson Sharing report dated August 4, 2015:

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“…As the pilots descended into the dipsite, the SIC communicated instructions to the PIC to “stay left” of the trees. While in the dip, the PIC heard what he suspected was a blade strike, called out the strike, jettisoned the water and immediately initiated a climb out to get clear of the area.

The pilots assessed the condition of the blades and saw no noticeable damage while in flight. On the climb out, the SIC noticed a smaller di-ameter tree (estimated to be about 8 ft. in height) that had been located at the helicopter’s 4 o’clock position, and missing its top. The Air Attack was notified about the potential blade strike and the pilots provided their intentions to land at the first opportunity. During the short flight to the first suitable landing site, the pilots noted no vibrations or abnormalities.

The crew performed a precautionary landing in a field located approximately 10 minutes away from the dip site. The Helicopter Manager was notified of the situation via cell phone. After shut down was complete, the pilots inspected the main rotor blade damage. Maintenance inspectors determined the main rotor blades, rotor-head, transmission and high speed shafts required replacement. The NTSB deter-mined the blade strike as an “Incident”, and it was further classified by the Forest Service as an “Incident with Potential”…”