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Helicopters, ATSB, CASA and wire strikes

There have been numerous incidents over the past years – including.

  1. Parkes;
  2. atsb – wirestrikes_20050055

An article in Thompsons [produced below] from 2007 gives some views as to the effects of these types of accidents:

Helicopter crashes report delayed

The Aust Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is still working on a report into wirestrikes – incidents caused by helicopters hitting power lines – despite saying it would be published by Oct last year. The latest crash involving a wirestrike occurred on Feb 2, near Parkes, NSW, when a charter pilot and two employees of Parkes Shire Council were killed. Their helicopter crashed to the ground and exploded after hitting power lines while undertaking an aerial survey.

The high-tension power lines were about 50m above the ground across a valley 23km east of Parkes. Following the publication of an investigation report into a wirestrike incident near Wodonga, Vic, last year, the ATSB said a report into such incidents was expected to be completed before the end of Oct 2005 and published on the ATSB website. But an ATSB spokesperson last week said the bureau’s researchers were still working on the document. He said the ATSB hoped to publish the report “this financial year” but no firm date had been set. In Jan 2005, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) convened a round table discussion to consider safety issues associated with aerial work near power lines.

It had hoped to follow up with an industry conference in Sep 2005, but was forced to cancel plans because of a lack of funds and industry support. CASA spokesperson Peter Gibson told OHN the idea of an industry conference had not been abandoned, and CASA highlighted wirestrike issues in its publications. “Primarily it is a matter for pilots to know where wires are and to avoid them,” Gibson said. “CASA regularly publishes information about the issue in its magazines and safety digests.” He said CASA continued to work on safety issues, including wirestrikes, with the Aerial Agricultural Assoc of Aust and other groups.

Six wirestrikes in two years

The fatal Parkes helicopter crash (see Helicopter crashes report delayed) was the sixth incident in just under two years in which wirestrike was a factor. On Feb 2, the day of the Parkes crash, the ATSB released its report into another fatal helicopter crash caused by striking power lines. On Nov 22, 2004, a helicopter pilot and a passenger were killed while undertaking work associated with a plague locust control program south-west of Dunedoo in NSW. A second passenger suffered serious injuries. The ATSB report found the helicopter occupants were generally aware of the existence and location of the power line during their operations, but workload and possible loss of concentration may have contributed to the crash. Another helicopter involved in a locust control program hit power lines and crashed near Forbes on Oct 30, 2004, causing minor injuries to one passenger.

The ATSB found no one on board the helicopter saw the lines in sufficient time to allow the pilot to avoid hitting them. On Nov 1, 2004, a helicopter pilot suffered minor injuries when his aircraft struck power lines 90m above the ground while taking off from Mudgee airport, NSW. In June 2004 a helicopter pilot died when his aircraft hit a power lines while on an agricultural spraying operation west of Wodonga, Vic. The ATSB noted in its investigation report that the aircraft hit the lines while using a route to a refuelling spot other than a previously determined “safe” route. On Mar 31, 2004, a pilot and passenger suffered minor injuries when their helicopter hit power lines on a property near Charters Towers, Qld, during mustering.

Parkes Wirestrike:

Helicopter deaths caused by rogue power line: inquest

4/08/2008 9:23:00 AM [from Parkes Champion Post]
Three people, including two Parkes Shire workers, were killed when their helicopter struck what was described in evidence as a ‘rogue’ overhead power line, an inquest into their deaths found in Forbes on Friday.
The inquest, before Deputy State Coroner, Magistrate Carl Milovanovich, heard evidence during the past two weeks.
Mr Milovanovich handed down the formal verdict on Friday morning and found that the pilot, Shane Haldane Thrupp (of South West Helicopters), and Parkes shire employees, Ian Phillip Stephenson and Malcolm John Buerckner died on 2 February, 2006, adjacent to the Parkes/Orange Road approximately 20 kms south of Parkes from multiple injuries when the aircraft Mr Thrupp was piloting collided with an overhead power cable and then impacted with the ground.
As a result of the evidence, Mr Milovanovich made several recommendations which will go to the Federal Minister For Aviation and the Civil Aviation and Safety Authority (CASA).
Among them was the need to urgently identify power lines with appropriate markers.
In so far as the subject wire which crosses the Parkes/Orange Road and which has a span of some 1200 metres, this wire has been described by experienced pilots as one of the worst and most hazardous wires they have seen,’ the magistrate said in his summing up.
Whatever the cost, these wires, described by some as rogue wires, must be identified with an appropriate marker or markers as a matter or urgency.
Mr Milovanovich also highlighted the lack of a paper trail in the dealings before the fatal accident.
The evidence indicates that the contractual arrangement between Parkes Shire Council and South West Helicopters was all conducted orally.
The lack of a paper trail is unsatisfactory.
Immediately after the finding, the wife of one of the victims, Debbie Buerckner said she was relieved the matter had finally came to a close.
‘I only hope something comes out of it all, and that these recommendations are followed through. I will certainly be watching to see what eventuates.’
The evidence during the two weeks heard that on 2 February, 2006, a Bell Helicopter 206B Jet Ranger piloted by Shane Thrupp struck a power line at a location known as “the Dungeonsâ€, approximately 20kms from Parkes at a height of about 130 feet directly above the Orange/Parkes Road.
As a result of the wire strike and subsequent impact with the ground Mr Thrupp and two passengers, Mr Buerckner and Mr Stephenson received fatal injuries.
The inquest heard Mr Thrupp was appropriately qualified to conduct aerial work and had about 2210 hours total flight experience in helicopters and some 1100 hours experience in low level agricultural applications.
The only eye witness to the accident was Mr Russell Schmidt, who first observed the aircraft while driving his vehicle along the Parkes/Orange Road.
He told the court he observed the aircraft strike the power lines and he believed the wire had impacted with the aircraft in the area above the cockpit and just below the rotor blades.
‘We know that the point of impact with the wires was approximately 120 feet above the road surface and that the ATSB investigation determined that the speed of the aircraft was approximately 61 knots at the time of impact and that the aircraft impacted with the ground approximately 88 meters north of the point of impact with the wire,’ Mr Milovanovich found.
‘It is known that shortly after impact the aircraft exploded and was consumed by a fire in which the escaping aviation fuel acted as an accelerant.
‘The ATSB with the aid of an eye witness account and from the examination of the wreckage was of the view that the aircraft was operational at the time of impact and there was no evidence to support a loss of power or altitude due to any mechanical failure.
‘All three occupants of the aircraft died as a result of impact injuries and I note the comments of the Forensic Pathologist, Matthew Orde that in his opinion the subsequent fire and explosion did not contribute to death,’ the magistrate said.
‘The power line with which the helicopter impacted was erected around 1951, the court heard.
The power lines are supported by two poles approximately 7.5 metres apart and located 1,260 metres apart in a generally east west direction crossing the Parkes/Orange Road at 90 degrees.
‘What is abundantly clear from the evidence is that any aerial operation has inherent risks and those risks are compounded when low level operations are undertaken, Mr Milovanovich said.
Statistics provided from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS) indicates (subject to the accuracy of the date) that 32 fatalities have occurred between 2002 and 2006 as a result of aircraft striking wires.
‘What has emerged is the importance of having well established planning systems and the generation of documents as part of the contractual relationship that defines the nature of the operation, the planned flight paths and the altitude at which operations will take place.
‘The evidence in regard to the Parkes incident indicates that the contractual arrangement between Parkes Shire Council and South West Helicopters was all conducted orally.
‘The lack of a paper trail is unsatisfactory for two reasons, firstly an appropriate check list and a documented contractual agreement should have specified the expectations of the customer (Parkes Shire Council) and the agreement should have not only addressed issues of appropriate certifications to undertake the operation, but also set out the intended flight path, level of flight etc.
Secondly, such documentation should have been oversighted by both the customer (Parkes Shire Council) and the Chief Pilot in accordance with South West Helicopters Operations Manual.
‘The independent oversighting of the planned operation may have identified possible hazards, an essential element from the perspective of the aircraft operator in terms of ensuring that the operation is within the company’s certification and that the aircraft to be used was appropriate for the intended task.
‘From the customers (Parkes Shire Council) perspective, documented contractual obligations and a check list of issues in terms of risk assessment and occupation health and safety would provide an appropriate paper trial in the event of injury or death following an operational incident.’
Mr Milovanovich found the wires that were struck by the helicopter did not have any markers attached to them that may have made them more visible to either the pilot or any crew member or observer.
‘Notwithstanding the economic and logistical constraints the number of wire strike incidents and fatalities in the past ten years would suggest that power supply companies need to come to terms in regard to their obligation to provide information and early warning as to possible hazards.
‘The amount of air traffic, including the increasing popularity of ultra light aircraft is likely to increase the frequency of wire strikes unless there is a unified approach by all stakeholders in reducing the risk.
‘In so far as the subject wire which crosses the Parkes/Orange Road and which has a span of some 1200 metres, this wire has been described by experienced pilots as one of the worst and most hazardous wires they have seen.
‘I can confirm from the most enlightening flight with the police Aviation Support branch that even when hovering some 20 metres away from the subject power lines and with them directly in front of the aircraft they were almost impossible to see against the blue sky and surrounding terrain. ‘Whatever the cost, these wires, described by some as rogue wires, must be identified with an appropriate marker or markers as a matter or urgency.’

And from the Sydney Morning Herald:

  • A report into a NSW helicopter crash that claimed three lives has recommended a national database of power poles and other tall structures.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) report into the February 2 helicopter crash 15km east of Parkes Aerodrome, in central-west NSW, has recommended collating existing information on low-level flight hazards.

The Bell helicopter, with the pilot and two Parkes Shire Council weed control officers on board, took off just before 9.30am for the estimated seven to eight minute flight.

The council staff were due to conduct noxious weeds surveys and inspect the council’s eastern border.

However, all three occupants died when the chopper struck powerlines across the Parkes to Orange road, causing it to slam into the ground and explode into flames.

ATSB deputy director of aviation safety investigations Julian Walsh said combining existing information on low-level hazards from various agencies would help pilots.

“Unfortunately wire strikes are all too common. There has been a number in recent years,” Mr Walsh said.

“Wires and low level structures are insidious things. You can know about them in the area but get distracted.”

He said the ATSB was discussing the feasibility of the database with the Energy Network Association and Geoscience Australia.

“There is a willingness there,” he said.

“We envisage the database to be either accessed over the phone, or via the internet with interactive maps with particular areas.

“Details are to be worked out.

“Low structures and hazard are one safety issue we have identified over and over again, but at the moment there is no single repository for information.”

The ATSB report made several recommendations on flight safety, including enhancing content for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s low flying standards and publishing an advisory on low flying.

and casa’s reaction to this […not enough money…’, yet ATSB report that  the ATSB analysis found that 119 wire-strike accidents and 98 wire-strike incidents were reported between 1994 and 2004.

Previous relevant safety action

As a result of previous wirestrike occurrence BO/200404285, the following relevant safety actions have been implemented:

Civil Aviation Safety Authority

On 31 January 2005, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) convened a round table discussion to consider potential safety activities relating to the conduct of aerial work in proximity to power cables. The participants in that discussion included representatives from relevant industry associations and other bodies and affected Government departments and agencies.

CASA had commenced planning to facilitate a conference in September 2005 involving relevant industry associations and other bodies and affected Government departments and agencies to further progress those safety issues confronting aerial work operations that were identified during the 31 January 2005 round table discussions. However, on 14 July 2005, CASA advised the Australian Transport Safety Bureau that due to funding constraints and minimal financial support from those organisations approached to support the conference, the conference would not go ahead. CASA advised further that the Authority would continue to work with the Aerial Agricultural Association of Australia and other relevant organisations in order to progress the safety issues affecting the potential for wire strikes to occur in the aerial work industry.

Aerial Agricultural Association of Australia Limited

The Aerial Agricultural Association of Australia Limited has nominated to be included in the Standards Australia committee responsible for the development of the standards affecting the mapping and marking of power cables and their supporting structures.

Australian Transport Safety Bureau action

As a result of recent helicopter wirestrike accidents, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has commenced a research project that is examining wire strikes in the Australian aviation industry. The report is expected to be complete before the end October 2005, and will be published on the  ATSB website or be available from the Bureau on request.

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