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.

Miami-Dade’s aviation program

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue helicopter
Miami -Dade Fire Rescue’s helicopter base at Tamiami airport in south Florida. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Miami-Dade Fire Rescue (MDFR) Air Rescue Bureau has four Bell 412 EPs that are used for fighting wildland fires in south Florida as well as providing regional aero-medical transport, search and rescue, and tactical support to MDFR operations. Jim Hunter, an Aircraft Commander, said about 80 percent of their responses are for medical aids, with the remainder being rescue and firefighting support.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue helicopter
Miami-Dade’s Bell 412 on duty at Tamiami. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Bureau operates out of two facilities in south Florida, the Tamiami Executive Airport and the Opa-locka Airport. Maintenance, administration, and training is conducted at the Tamiami facility.

There is always an “alert aircraft” helicopter staffed 24/7 at each location, along with two pilots and two paramedics for each. The other two helicopters are used for backup when an aircraft is down for maintenance. The day we were there, a backup ship was ready to be wheeled out on a dolly to the ramp if needed, and the fourth was undergoing heavy maintenance, which included removing the engines, rotors, and many other components.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue helicopter
The backup helicopter is available if needed. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

During the dry season, January or February through May, the helicopters are equipped with a 350-gallon Simplex belly tank for firefighting, which takes about an hour to install, Mr. Hunter said. The tank has three doors which can be opened independently or all at the same time depending on the need. While the helicopter is hovering, the tank is filled through a snorkle with a 5 gallon per second pump powered by an electric motor.

They also have a 240-gallon Bambi Bucket.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue helicopter
A Simplex 350-gallon belly tank is usually mounted during the busy part of the fire season. It takes about an hour. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue helicopter
They prefer to use the 350-gallon fixed belly tank, but a 240-gallon Bambi Bucket is also available. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Each aircraft is equipped with the following:

  • Patient loading systems normally configured allow the transport of two critical-care patients, with the option to reconfigure for up to six patients in Mass Casualty Incidents (MCIs).
  • An external hoist for helicopter-borne rescues.
  • An external high-power searchlight, “The Night Sun,” is used for night operations.
  • MCI Command and Control suitable radio suite.
  • Night Vision Goggle compatible lighting.

They are also equipped with weather radar, but Mr. Hunter said the pilots prefer to use an iPad connected to the Internet, since it can show troublesome weather at a longer range than their radar.

(More photos are below.) Continue reading “Miami-Dade’s aviation program”