• The crash site of VH-DLD 3.3 nm from Gorrie Station. (NT Police annotated by the ATSB)
    The crash site of VH-DLD 3.3 nm from Gorrie Station. (NT Police annotated by the ATSB)

The pilot of a Robinson R22 flew at night without training or instruments, resulting in a fatal crash in the Northern Territory.

That is the conclusion of an Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigation report into the crash released this week.

On 7 December last year, the pilot was due to fly VH-DLD from Bloodwood Station to Gorrie Station in the NT, electing to depart on the 21-nm flight after last light. When the aircraft didn't arrive at Gorrie as expected, friends and family of the pilot organised a search, which found the wreckage of the helicopter two days later only 3.3 nm from Gorrie. The pilot died in the crash.

According to the ATSB report, the pilot was not qualified to fly visual at night, and the aircraft didn't have suitable instruments, not even an artificial horizon.

Investigators also believe the pilot may have flown through a smoke plume from nearby bushfires, which would have completely obliterated any ground reference the pilot had.

“Pilots qualified to only operate under day visual flight rules are at risk of spatial disorientation and loss of control of their aircraft when they operate–intentionally or otherwise–in night conditions, where little to no useable external visual cues can be present,” ATSB Director Transport Safety Stuart Macleod said.

“Without the minimum instruments and training, it was unlikely that the pilot would have been able to orientate the helicopter without external visual references.

“It is likely that during the return home flight, the helicopter entered a smoke plume associated with bushfires under dark night conditions, and the pilot became spatially disorientated, resulting in a collision with terrain, uncontrolled, at a high speed.”

The pilot had been offered a bed for the night at Bloodwood Station, but elected to depart after last light, relying on some NVFR experience and external lighting at Gorrie that lit the helipad.

The full investigation report is on the ATSB website.

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