An aviation researcher, writer, aviation participant, pilot & agricultural researcher. Author of over 35 scientific publications world wide.


Good reads

Oil Prices


ABC Chopper

The following is the ABC reports on the AS335 chopper at Maree:

ATSB Report on the accident.

 ATSB releases final report into chopper crash which killed ABC crew at Lake Eyre


 Topics: air-and-space, accidents, abc, australia, sa

John Bean, Gary Ticehurst and Paul Lockyer on the salt pans at Lake Eyre

Video: ATSB releases final report into chopper crash which killed ABC crew (ABC News)

 The Australian Safety Transport Bureau has recommended the rules for flying at night be tightened in the wake of the ABC helicopter crash which claimed three lives at Lake Eyre in August 2011.

Reporter Paul Lockyer, cinematographer John Bean, and pilot Gary Ticehurst were killed in the crash while on assignment to cover Lake Eyre in flood for an ABC documentary.

Today the ATSB released its final report into the crash, saying that spatial disorientation was the major cause of the accident.

“Firstly this was a very dark night which meant that it was more difficult to establish the positioning of the helicopter,” ATSB Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan told the ABC.

“We also found that as a result of that spatial disorientation, the helicopter went into a downward spiral, crashed into the ground, and sadly the crew died immediately.”

Crash happened as helicopter headed for home after filming Lake Eyre tourists

On the afternoon before the crash, the veteran news crew had been filming tourists who were camping on an island at the mouth of Cooper Creek inlet.

They took off at 7pm in clear, dark conditions, with a camp fire as visual reference. The moon had not yet risen.

Tourists on the ground told investigators at first the helicopter was flying in the wrong direction to the homestead a 30-minute flight away, where the ABC crew were to stay the night. The helicopter was then seen to turn, and one witness reported seeing a glow before the helicopter disappeared from view.

“As best as we can understand following the sequence of the flights, the helicopter initially went off in the wrong direction, we believe, because the GPS was originally wrongly programmed for the flight,” Mr Dolan said.

“There was a realisation perhaps from a radio message from people on the ground that they were heading in the wrong direction. The direction of the flight was changed, and we believe at that point there was an attempt to reprogram the GPS.”

The ATSB found that the attempt to reprogram the GPS in-flight was likely to be a contributing factor to the crash.

“We know there must have been distraction, because otherwise there was information from the flight instruments that would have been seen and probably acted upon, so as a contributing factor certainly we think distraction would have been in play.”

Pilot would have had difficulty seeing horizon in moonless night

Mr Dolan said spatial orientation was 80 per cent visual, and it would have been extremely difficult for the pilot to see the horizon.

“When you’re in central Australia after dark and there’s no moon, you can’t see the horizon. You might get a little glimmer from the stars, but probably your instrument lights from your aircraft are going to drown that out anyway.

“There’s the quite serious possibility that you can quite progressively be leaning over and not actually detect that’s the case.”

The ATSB took more than two years to release its final report into the crash.

Its investigators worked with researchers from the US Army’s Aeromedical Research Laboratory, who had experience in a similar chopper crash investigation in 2005 where spatial disorientation was a major factor.

Investigators were able to recover the helicopter’s GPS, which enabled them to reconstruct the flight path to within seconds of impact.

They identified that the helicopter would have got into trouble less than two-and-a-half minutes into the flight, and there was just 20 seconds to determine the problem and what needed to be done.

“With the speed at which this happened, it would have been quick and that’s what we can be grateful for,” Mr Dolan told the ABC.

Aviation authority tightens night-flying rules in wake of report

The ATSB says that when it comes to flying in dark night conditions with no light on the ground for a visual reference, the current rules for managing risks fall short of what is required.

“Rather than relying on external reference visual points visually … this is a flight that’s required to be flown based on the instruments in the aircraft, and therefore the flight crew need to be trained in using those instruments to fly the aircraft without external reference.”

Those rules are already in place for charter operators, but not aerial and private operators.

“The key thing we would be saying at this point is treat it as if it was a charter operation,” Mr Dolan said.

“This gives the level of safety we think is necessary also for aerial work and private flight.”

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority says it will now require that helicopter air transport operations with passengers at night to either have to an autopilot or a two-pilot crew.

Pilots will also face additional licensing requirements for night flying, and will have had to have conducted three take-offs and landings in the past 90 days before carrying passengers at night.

Cameraman’s wife thanks investigators who never gave up

John Bean’s wife Pip Courtney released a statement thanking the ATSB for its efforts in investigating the cause of the crash.

“From the start ATSB investigators said due to the severity of the crash and the fire that followed, it was unlikely they’d be able to tell the families what had happened, but they didn’t give up,” she said.

“They sent feathers to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington and the remains of the GPS to the American military.

“I would like to thank the investigation team for its efforts.

“I can only hope their discoveries and recommendations will be acted on by the aviation community.”

ABC managing director Mark Scott said the corporation was putting night flying on hold following the ATSB’s findings.

“The ABC has an obligation to read, absorb and respond to the findings, with an overriding concern for staff welfare,” he said in a statement.

“The report is quite detailed and we will need time to work through the recommendations.

“The Bureau and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority have proposed new and clearer standards for helicopter flights in dark night conditions and proposed new requirements for pilot qualifications and the use of autopilots.

“The ABC will act on these recommendations by ensuring there is no night flying until the Corporation updates its systems in response.”

Goodbye Beanie

ABC reporter Pip Courtney has paid a loving and heartbreaking tribute to her late husband, John Bean, at his memorial service in Brisbane.

 First posted Thu 14 Nov 2013, 10:31am AEDT