The Australia Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has issued a preliminary report detailing facts about the fatal collision of two Airbus Helicopters EC130B4s on 2 January.
The mid-air collision occurred in clear visibility in the early afternoon, as the helicopter registered VH-XH9 approached a landing pad adjacent to the Sea World theme park near Gold Coast, and as the other helicopter registered VH-XKQ ascended after lifting off from a pad inside the park.
Carrying five passengers and a single pilot, XH9 was completing a short scenic flight. As it returned to its pad XKQ, carrying six passengers and a single pilot, was climbing.
“Video footage taken by passengers in both helicopters on mobile phones contained images of the other helicopter,” says ATSB. “This does not mean that the helicopters were visible to either pilot from their positions in the helicopter, or even the passenger filming, and this aspect will be subject to detailed analysis by the ATSB investigation.”
Passengers aboard XH9 spotted XKQ and tried to alert the pilot, but at an altitude of 130ft – 23s into XKQ’s flight - the main rotor blade of XKQ hit the forward cabin of XH9.
“XKQ broke apart in mid-air and impacted shallow water next to the sandbar,” says ATSB. “The pilot and 3 passengers were fatally injured, and 3 passengers were seriously injured. The helicopter was destroyed.”
XH9 suffered major damage to the forward cabin, instrument console, and rotor blades, but the pilot was able to conduct a descending turn and land on a sandbar near XKQ. The pilot and two passengers were seriously hurt, while the three other passengers had minor injuries.
Subsequently, the pilot of XH9 reported that he did not hear a taxi call from the pilot of XKQ.
Says ATSB: “This does not necessarily mean that a taxi call was not made and this topic will be subject to detailed analysis by the ATSB investigation. The pilot of XH9 also reported that they did not see XKQ depart from the park helipad.”
Both helicopters were operated by Sea World Helicopters, and the two pilots were experienced flight instructors.
The ATSB’s preliminary report contains no analysis, but this will appear in its final report into the accident.